Living with Autism presents a child or adult with everyday difficulties that can make it hard to interact with other people or to live an independent life. The use of Autism service dogs is quickly becoming a popular and effective way to enable those with Autism to interact more with their surroundings and those within them, thus enriching their lives and making their condition more manageable.
What is an Autism service dog?
An Autism service dog is a dog which has been specially trained to assist a person with Autism in their everyday life. They are similar to a guide dog in that they help their owners perform day-to-day activities that they would otherwise find difficult or impossible. Service dogs can help people with Autism to live independently.
How do service dogs help children with autism?
It is most common for an Autism service dog to be placed with a child, to allow the dog and child to grow up together and form a close bond that will stay with them throughout the life of the dog.
The dog will receive training before being introduced to a family to ensure they are suited to the individual needs of the child they will be placed with.
Some ways in which a service dog can help a child with Autism include:
- Teaching a child to become more aware of their surroundings, and to interact more with them
- Giving the child a constant companion that they can rely upon, which can help improve social interactions and relationships
- Improving verbal communication by encouraging them to communicate out loud to the dog
- Help with soothing the child during a melt-down through having a calming presence nearby that they can touch, pet or otherwise rely upon
- Aiding with socialization as the child is encouraged by their parents to answer any questions family/friends/strangers have about the dog
- Preventing them from running away or wondering away from parents/guardians, especially when out in public
- Making the child feel comfortable to sleep in their own bed with the dog for company, rather than relying on having a parent present or sleeping in their parents’ room
What sort of training do the dogs have?
The type of training a dog receives can vary based on the organization providing the service dog. At Canines for Change, we follow a detailed process to ensure our service dogs are fully trained and capable of supporting their new family.
Training starts once the puppy reaches 8 weeks of age, and continues until they are up to 18 months old. Families are introduced to the training process as soon as possible to allow them to become comfortable and familiar with the dog. Once the dog has completed their training, they are tested and issued an identification badge to show that they have successfully passed.
The family who the dog is placed with is expected to continue training the dog throughout its life. The dog will be tested regularly throughout its live to ensure it is still meeting the needs of its owner and that it is still behaving in an appropriate manner for a service dog.
Are service dogs the future of Autism?
Owning a service dog is a huge responsibility, but also a fantastic opportunity to enrich the life of a child with Autism. These benefits often extend into adulthood, allowing the individual to thrive and live more independently than they perhaps might have been able to without the support of the dog.
If you are interested in a service dog to help support your child with Autism, please read our “getting started” guide and begin the application process.