There are three (3) basic types of assistance dogs, including: Guide Dogs – for the blind and the visually impaired, Hearing Dogs – for the deaf and hard of hearing and Service Dogs – for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing. In this article, we’ll look more closely at one particular kind of service dog: autism service dogs.
These are, as you can probably guess, dogs specially trained to mitigate some of the difficulties experienced by people—particularly children—on the autism spectrum. Autism assistance dogs do a great deal to increase the independence, confidence, skills development, and safety of these individuals.
Here’s a look at just some of the major ways autism service dogs help their human partners:
Assisting with Sensory Processing Problems
Autism presents sensory processing difficulties. Some of the training for autism service dogs is similar to training for dogs who assist people with impaired vision or hearing (other sensory processing problems). For example, autism assistance dogs alert their human partners to important sounds or other environmental elements that require priority attention. These may otherwise be missed due to over-stimulation. The dogs even lead their partners away when confusion or agitation occurs from too many stimuli in the immediate surroundings.
Providing a Calming Influence
Often, this goes hand-in-hand with the above tasks. Autism service dogs act as a grounding focal point when there’s too much sensory input. Furthermore, many kids on the autism spectrum find pressure on their body to be soothing when they’re overstimulated; in these cases, the dog presses or lies down on the child. The dog’s unconditional love, as well as her endless patience and companionship, is also an amazing source of support and comfort. This too has a potent calming effect on people on the autism spectrum.
Increasing Personal Safety
Many individuals on the autism spectrum don’t act with an appropriate awareness of personal safety. For instance, children may wander off or step into the road without regard for oncoming traffic. Autism service dogs closely monitor for such danger, and can track their partners if they go missing. In addition, young children are sometimes tethered to the dog’s harness to keep them safe while out of the home; however, this is a controversial practice that many people in the autism and assistance dog community aren’t on board with. The dog can also alert the parents if the child is leaving, doing something dangerous, awake in the middle of the night, etc.
Enhancing Social and Communication Skills
Autism assistance dogs make it easier and safer to introduce people on the autism spectrum to different public settings and social situations. This offers personal development advantages and more daily engagement. The ability to give the dog commands and get the desired response also often proves to be a great motivator for verbal communication.
Alerting to Stimming
Many people on the autism spectrum engage in repetitive physical motions, movements, sounds, or other actions for self-stimulation. This is known as stimming. Many stimming behaviors are harmless, but others can become disruptive, violent, and even dangerous (such as repeatedly banging a head against the wall). Autism service dogs draw attention to stimming and help their human partners recognize the need to interrupt the behavior.
Interested in an Autism Service Dog?
Autism assistance dogs are one of the newer types of service dogs. Some assistance dog providers specialize solely in training these working animals, while others train these and other types. Either can be a great source for an autism service dog, provided you do your due diligence in choosing a provider. Always opt for a provider that’s accredited by Assistance Dogs International.