There are many reasons a service dog may be of benefit to an individual with autism. But how exactly can a service dog be of assistance? It is true that the calming presence and loving companionship of a dog can bring out a world of positive change for a child with autism. But did you know autism service dogs can be trained specialized tasks to help with specific behaviors your child may be struggling with? From anxiety and meltdowns to safety concerns, each dog’s training can be tailored to the exact needs of your child and family. Take a look at the different abilities autism assistance dogs can be trained to do.
Deep Pressure Therapy
Many children with autism find comfort in weighted blankets, bear hugs, or other means of pressure on the physical body. Autism Assistance Dogs can be trained a task that involves placing their body on the child’s to offer that deep pressure. This can be beneficial during the onset of a meltdown, episodes of anxiety, overstimulation, etc. In addition, this task can encourage relaxation during bedtime to help with night awakenings and anxiety of sleeping in their room alone.
When presented with overstimulating situations, some children may resort to repetitive self-stimulating behaviors that can often be damaging. These could include picking at skin, hitting their head, verbal repetitions, and many others. Autism Service Dogs can be trained to nudge the child to get their attention back on their dog rather than whatever may be upsetting them. This interruption can often aid in changing the habit of engaging in those self-stimulating behaviors.
For many parents, the safety of their child with autism is an immense concern. A large percentage of children are likely to either bolt or wander away in public. Many parents feel the need to keep a solid grip on their child at all times. Service Dogs for Autism are trained to understand the method of tethering so that the dog heels next to the parent/handler’s side and is tethered to the child. This prevents the child from wandering away or bolting away from the parents but also gives the child a bit more independence.
As an additional safety measure, Autism Assistance Dogs can also be trained to drop and hold their ground when a child is in the act of bolting/running away. This task is helpful for children who have a history of bolting without understanding danger or consequences. If the dog and child are tethered but the child begins bolting, the parent can give a quick verbal command for the dog to immediately lie down and resist the weight of the child pulling against it. The dog must remain in that spot until released, giving the parent the chance to get to their child before they potentially bolt into the road or get too far away.
When it comes to eloping behaviors, the worst-case scenario can quickly become a reality. If a child does wander out of sight and the parent doesn’t know which direction they went, a Service Dog trained in search and rescue trailing can offer a huge peace of mind. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell which can be tailored to finding a specific odor and following it to the source, meaning that the parents could work with the service dog to quickly locate their missing child.
Aside from the trained tasks, service dogs can also offer many welcome improvements in a wide variety of areas from social skills and anxiety to improvements in reading, speech, and sleep habits. A majority of parents report that their child sleeps longer, has less night awakenings or now sleeps in their own room after bonding with their dog. Many children show less anxiety in new or overwhelming places and others make leaps and bounds in therapy as they learn new life skills working with their new canine partner. The emotional benefits are endless.