Service dogs for children and adults with an autism spectrum disorder
Help, companionship and social facilitator
Autism service dogs
Not for everyone
Not every person with ASD will benefit from a service dog. If the person is afraid or uninterested in dogs, for instance, a service dog would not be a good fit. When the person is drawn to animals and naturally seeks comfort and interaction with animals, a service dog could make a significant difference in that person’s life.
What science says
A recent study from the University of Montreal confirmed that specifically trained service dogs can help reduce the anxiety and enhance the socialization skills of children with Autism Syndrome Disorders (ASD). The dogs had a dramatic impact on the children’s stress hormone levels.
How do service dogs help with autism?
Trained tasks and companionship
Social interactions are essential to cognitive and linguistic development. For children with ASD, normal interactions with others are difficult and they often withdraw into their own world, isolating themselves. A service dog acts as a social facilitator, a magnet to other children who will come and ask questions about the dog and want to pet the dog. The dog provides something to talk about and with these repeated positive interactions, the child learns to open up and get more comfortable talking with others.
A service dog could also:
- Help soothe a person with ASD and prevent tantrums by escalating into a meltdown. Dogs are trained to place their head on the person’s lap as a calming gesture or to get on the person, applying pressure and warmth.
- Provide reassurance and tactile stimulation.
- Be used as a teaching tool in school or at home to help change the person’s focus, calm anxiety or get the child’s attention.
- Assist in physical therapy and be used as a reward for completing a task.
- Reassure in case of night terrors.
- Get a parent when the child has a meltdown.
- Track a child that tends to elope.
- Help with keeping a child close when out on outings.