For a child with autism, life is filled with stressors and anxiety-filled situations. To help, many families are turning to service dogs. These can help keep the autistic child calm, whether in school, loud situations, or other classic scenarios that lead to an issue. Anyone diagnosed on the autism spectrum might be able to get a service dog, depending on certain factors and as long as it is on the emotional support dog register. The way that dogs help differs based on the characteristics and severity of the autism and where on the spectrum a person falls.
Many Traits of Emotional Support Dogs for Autistic Children
Similar to other service dogs and emotional support dogs, an autism dog provides a calming presence for a person to rely on to relax during a stressful situation. They also can help a person with daily tasks, such as getting dressed or picking up something that was dropped. In the case of an emergency situation, the dog will alert passersby to come and assist their person. It also helps to take away stress from caregivers and loved ones while also teaching children important skills. Many also find it helps to improve an autistic child's communication skills.
Emotional and Social Support
Many children with autism struggle to engage emotionally and socially. They might be unable to communicate verbally or non-verbally, and they might not be able to process social cues in the same way as their non-autistic peers. This makes it difficult to communicate with others and form relationships. Having a service dog helps autistic children to learn to interact with their peers. Other children can come and play with their dog, creating a way to connect the autistic person with the other child. There is always something about which the children can talk and bond over: the dog.
There is one main unique characteristic to dogs that help with autistic children: their ability to recognize changes to sensory levels. The sensory system is significantly impacted by autistic disorders, which is one reason for the way that autistic people respond to stressful situations. In fact, the disorder is now recognized as a sensory processing disorder. Upon recognizing that a person has become overstimulated, a pet with therapy dog certification will step in and help to calm them down. This might be through actually putting pressure on the person's body, which has been shown to provide a calming effect in autistic children. The dog is also trained to notify the child when he or she starts to conduct repetitive behaviors, known as stimming, that might be harmful.
Autism dogs might also provide assistance to keep children safe. Some autistic children cannot quickly process multiple noises and understand which ones are important. If one of the noises is an emergency alert, such as a smoke alarm, the child might not react quick enough to get to safety. A service dog provides assistance by alerting them to the situation and getting them to get to safety. This also works on other non-emergency alerts, such as a doorbell or telephone ring.
Some parents also choose to use service dogs to help keep their children safe through what is known as tethering. This is when a child is attached to the dog by a leash. When the child is tethered to the dog, parents feel less apprehensive about their child wandering off and getting into danger. The dog keeps the child in a certain area; it also alerts the parents if the child is to start walking away from a certain area.
There are many benefits to using a service dog for autistic children, and many of these carry over to when these children grow up into adulthood. Upon finding the right dog, it is essential to register the service dog at USA Service Dogs to avoid problems.