Autism Therapy Dogs
The sight of a dog comforting a little boy might bring a smile to your face, but if you knew just what that dog could be doing for the little boy, it would bring peace and joy to your heart. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in 59 children are reported as diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and it’s been found to affect four times more males than females.
Animal-assisted therapy through a service dog, also known as an emotional support dog, already help thousands of people with mental problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer’s disease—and it’s the same with children with autism. when you pair a properly trained autism therapy dog with an individual dealing with autism, it not only can brighten their day, but it can bring a sense of peace, stability, and safety to them as well as their families. Both adults and children alike can benefit in many ways from a therapy dog after training.
Often, a person dealing with autism has social interaction issues, high anxiety with change, and difficulties sleeping, as well as problems communicating or even wandering off. A canine companion can help in many ways, no matter what level the person is on the autism spectrum, as long as there is no fear of dogs.
Many parents prefer to introduce the service dog as soon as possible once their child has been diagnosed with autism, but dogs can be incredibly helpful to autistic patients at any age and spectrum level. The bond that forms between them and their dog can help ease many potentially volatile situations.
When an autistic individual becomes anxious, they often don’t know how to react. Whether it’s caused by overstimulation, such as being in a room full of people or a loud noise that bothers them, they aren’t able to communicate what the problem is, and often aren’t even aware of what the source of their anxiety is. When you bring an autism therapy dog into the picture, they have someone familiar right there beside them. This alone has the possibility of calming them down.
The dogs can sense a change in their person’s actions or can be directed by an adult handler to react to behavior such as hand flapping or repeating a word or phrase. They can then move in and nudge or snuggle up to their autistic buddy. Creating that physical bond can help ease their two-legged friend’s anxiety.
It’s human nature to be wary, and children often shy away from other kids who have obvious differences. Most autistic children don’t have many friends, but dogs usually have lots of friends and are often the center of attention. Bring them along with children with autism and boom, you’ve got social interaction.
Others will ask to pet the assistance dogs, maybe ask them why they get to have a dog at school or other events, and ultimately think it’s pretty cool to hang around with someone who gets to take a dog everywhere with them. Sure, the autistic child might shy away from the conversation and leave it up to their adult companion, but each time it happens is another opportunity to learn to communicate.
For parents of young or teenage kids with autism, it’s much harder to keep track of them. Often, they crave seclusion, and wandering off to be alone can be a real and dangerous issue. They don’t understand that it’s scary for their parents or that they could get hurt. They’re sporadic about answering to someone calling their name or often just don’t feel the need to.
It’s becoming popular to use these highly trained autism service dogs to tether to the child as well as the parent. This allows the child some measure of independence and gives the parent peace of mind. While the dog always needs to be monitored by an adult handler, this can give the child an opportunity to make choices they might not often have.
These highly intelligent canines are also trained to track. This can save a life if the child wanders off. The handler can instruct the dog to find them and, in most instances, the wanderer is located relatively quick.
Often, when they’re overwhelmed, an autistic person will have trouble in this area, such as exhibiting loud or disruptive behavior and even laying down or banging their body against the floor. When signaled by the handler, the dog can help redirect behavior. They can lay down on the person and apply deep pressure which often has a soothing effect. They may also paw or nudge for attention which can turn the person’s focus to something other than the triggers.
Depending on the individual’s spectrum level, many autistics don’t like to be touched. As a sensory disorder, this can even be painful for them. Luckily, they often find the nudge from a head, a paw, or the weight of their furry friend to be soothing. It can help redirect their attention to something more familiar and lessen the anxiety they’re feeling. It also can help decrease the number of occurrences or degree of a meltdown that a child or teen may suffer.
Also acting as emotional support dogs as part of the service, these amazing animals can help immensely when their person has to make a transition to a new environment such as changing schools, a doctor’s office they’ve never been to, or taking a family vacation. By offering a sense of familiarity, autism support dogs can help with these types of delicate situations.
Sometimes, people with autism (especially children) need to co-sleep or have someone else sleeping near them to feel secure enough to relax and fall asleep. Therapy animals can work wonders in this department too by snuggling up or even laying on them for deep pressure treatment. This allows the parents a much-needed break.
There are many advantages to having an autism therapy dog beside the safety and comfort factors. They can help every child with autism emotional support and build responsibility through daily tasks, as well as communication skills by interacting with the dog and others around them. Besides these benefits, it also gives them someone to play with that is judgment free, doesn’t hold grudges for their sometimes-erratic behavior and loves them unconditionally.