Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has a wide range of associated challenges that may include issues with social communication, adapting to a new environment, awareness of danger, emotional stability, etc. However, because Autism is a spectrum disorder each child is still very unique in the degree they are affected and the things in which they need assistance. An Autism Assistance Dog can be case specifically trained in the areas where the individual needs assistance. These skills are primarily used as part of a three unit team where a parent or other trained adult uses the task trained skills that the service dog can provide for the child.
Children with autism may display wandering or impulsive behavior which results in them becoming lost. When time is of the essence, having a service dog trained to recognize the child’s scent and lead a parent to the missing child is critical.
Many families report that they are not able to safely take their child with autism in public for fear of the child becoming lost. A service dog can be trained to provide tethering in which the dog wears a harness and a second leash from the harness can be attached to a belt or backpack the child is wearing. The connection creates a physical boundary that allows the child to walk but prevents the child from leaving due to service dog providing an anchor. Tethering is only used handler is holding on to the primary leash and providing direction and complete supervision.
Meltdowns and sensory needs are common challenges for children with autism. An Autism Assistance Dog can be trained to provide task trained assistance with calming, comforting and redirecting commands. Commands include redirection such as the dog placing their paw on the child’s leg, sensory input from deep pressure or kisses, calming comfort by the service dog snuggling or laying their head in the child’s lap. These skills are task trained and meet the definition of a service dog which allows public access. This differs from an Emotional Support Animal whose simple presence provides comfort and does not have general public access.
While the needs of each child are unique, many families hope that a service dog will become their child’s best friend. Having a service dog that is bonded closely to their child is an opportunity for the child to have a best friend who loves and accepts them unconditionally.
Many parents report that their child sleeps better at night because the service dog is sleeping with them and providing that constant comfort. Parents may also choose to use some of the service dog’s task trained skills to provide comfort to help the child to fall asleep. If the child wakes up at night, they are able to snuggle with their best friend and buddy and fall back asleep.
Other children may not understand or know how to relate to a child who is displaying meltdowns and repetitive behaviors. When the child with autism has a service dog, suddenly they are the most popular person on the playground or in public and everyone wants to interact with them.
Many children enjoy learning how to brush, feed, and take care of their service dog. This gives them the opportunity to be responsible for something and they can take pride in their efforts as they learn important life skills.
For children who struggle with verbal skills, asking the dog to perform a trick or other command can be an incentive to communicate. In public, the child has the opportunity to talk about their service dog with other people.
Assisting with Transitions
The Autism Assistance dog has the public access rights to provide a source of comfort and consistency when environments change and anxiety might be high. Many families are able to go more places because they have the service dog. The dog is not only able to provide the task trained skills in public, but also their presence helps to deescalate a situation.