For generations, animals have aided humans with special needs. As a classic example, seeing eye dogs can provide assistance navigating those with visual impairments. Better yet, these dogs also offer safety and security from potentially dangerous situations and people. Just as significantly, animals — and dogs in particular — can be a calming source of emotional and psychological support for many.
It’s no wonder that more and more interest is being shown for autism service dogs. These calming canines are specifically trained to support and protect people, often children, on the autistic spectrum.
What Are Autism Service Dogs?
Unlike other service dogs, who are trained to bond with and follow instructions from the patient, autism service dogs are a little different. More often than not, these helpful hounds are trained to bond with and take instructions from the patient’s parents or caretaker. They work with, and not for, the child with autism.
Autism service dogs are a relatively new development in the world of service animals. Normally, the “autism dog” (as they are often called) is physically tied to the child, using ropes or tethers for the handler’s safety. This allows the dog to prevent the owner from running out into the street, or anywhere else where they could be put in danger. For autistic children with a tendency to wander off, some service dogs are trained to track people by scent.
Autism Service Dogs – More Than Just a Protector
In addition to their more practical services, many people rightly state that autism service dogs provide a grounding, calming presence to their patients. This nurturing presence is thought to minimize, and even prevent, the emotional outbursts which are so common in children with autism.
Some people even believe that an autism service dog can serve as a transition object. Once the autistic child bonds with the dog comfortably, it is thought that he or she can transition to bonding with humans.
It’s also common for the child’s parents and family members to become more relaxed and happy with a helpful dog around. Dogs are therapeutic for everyone and they will rest easy knowing that the child’s safety is protected by their dog. Most outcome studies performed on the effectiveness of autism service dogs support the belief that these dogs truly provide a significant benefit to their owners, including both the parents and the child in need. Parents often say that dogs prevent their children from bolting or running away. They also claim to be able to sleep more easily at night, knowing that the dog will wake them if the child leaves his or her bed. With the dogs effectively and safely preventing their children from acting out in dangerous ways, parents consistently report instant satisfaction with autism service dogs, and a significant reduction of concerns for potential safety issues.
Learning and More
While results involving emotional and learning improvements are harder to quantify, there’s certainly evidence that autism service dogs help the children they protect develop psychologically and emotionally. In some cases, children teach themselves to regulate their walking pace after walking with a service dog. Perhaps most exciting is the finding that some children with autism service dogs begin to learn animal-care tasks, such as feeding their dog.
Service dog trainers and volunteers usually begin with working service dogs when they’re just 16 weeks old. Besides being trained to prevent autistic children from running away or leaving their rooms at night, they can be trained to prevent children from hurting themselves. This is because children with particularly severe cases of autism might even react to frustrating situations with self-harm. This is primarily because they’re unable to verbalize their frustrations and physical reactions are the best way that they can express themselves. Autism service dogs will put themselves between the child and the source of harm, such as a hard surface, or nudge the child to distract them and let them know they are safe.
Service dogs can also help in other distressing situations as well. For children who suffer from epilepsy as well as autism, service dogs can be trained to notice an impending seizure and warn the parents or caretakers. These dogs will even place themselves between the child and a hard surface, usually the floor, to keep the child from hitting his or her head during a seizure.
Another benefit of having an autism service dog is that people in public will recognize that the autistic child has special needs. Seeing the service dog can help strangers show more compassion and understanding to an autistic child.
For More Information, Rely on SDWR
Properly trained service dogs provide an enormous benefit to their owners and autistic children, both physically and emotionally. When you have more questions about autism service dogs, don’t hesitate to reach out to Service Dogs by SDWR.