Canines can be a positive factor in coping with autism by enriching the quality of life and enhancing the independence of children and families living with autism. The primary function of a trained autism service dog is to provide for a child's physical safety, but research studies have found that matching a service dog to a child with autism has far-reaching benefits including increasing social acknowledgements, providing companionship, and reducing parental stress. Service dogs also help to increase the child's level of independence, confidence and social acceptance. The service dog gives these familiesí opportunities to safely access different environments which results in improved communication and social skills. Children display fewer outbursts and the dog gives them the ability to become a visible part of the community at large. The dog and its harness draw the public's eye and signals that this child has some challenges. Families with a service dog have reported changes in the child's behavior; the children were calmer at school, at home, and out in public.
What types of dogs are required and what are they trained to do?
An autism service dog must be physically able to prevent a child from bolting. They are also selected specifically for their stability, calmness, and steady reaction to both loud noises and the constant motion of some of these children. Through a unique harness and belt system, both the child and the parent are attached to the dog. If a child approaches a curb or tries to bolt off a sidewalk, the parent can tell the dog to "stay". The dog is trained to brace its footing to slow the child down and stop them, which gives the parent walking behind the child time to intervene. The children are taught that they are responsible for the care of their new dog and that they are attached because the dog needs him or her nearby at all times.
What results have these programs experienced?
Families have stated that autism service dogs have given them reaction time when a tantrum or a bolting episode is about to come on. In many cases parents have stated that the dog has a calming effect on the child and can take the edge off the child's highs and lows. Parents have reported that fearful behaviors are often minimized by the emotional stability that a service dog offers. The dog provides an avenue for autism awareness and increases overall understanding from others. This allows families and individuals to lead happier and more productive lives.
Courtesy of: Caroline McCabe Sandler Agency: Guiding Eyes for the Blind Website: www.guidingeyes.org