You’re probably familiar with guide dogs for the blind and hearing dogs for deaf people, but did you know that there are incredible ways that dogs can help people with autism?
In this article, our friends at Breed Advisor have detailed five incredible ways in which these fantastic dogs can change lives.
Autism can cause what looks like ritualistic or repetitive behaviors. Sometimes this can be caused by being in a situation that is too much to cope with. If the person is non-verbal, then it means that they can’t tell someone they need help.
With training, an Autism Assistance dog can be trained to notice these behaviors and respond with what’s called an intervention. This might be placing a paw on their person or nudging them with their nose. With the deep bond that’s developed between dog and handler, intervening, or stopping what might be a harmful behavior seems to be achieved much more easily than if it was attempted by another person.
Help with Safety
Children with autism may not respond to their names, and often they don’t really understand all the dangers that may be lurking in their environment. So, for example, a car heading in their direction may not cause them to quickly move out of the way.
This is when a tether system comes in. The child either holds a leash connected to their autism service dog, or it’s attached to their belt or backpack. For safety, the main leash is still always held by the parent, but for the child, just holding the leash seems to give both security and a boundary. It also reduces the temptation to wander, keeping them safe.
Having that constant presence of such an amazing and specially trained dog can provide a calming focus for a person with autism. When everything else is new and perhaps a little scary, having a familiar companion can be hugely reassuring.
An autism service dog can help both children and adults with overcoming anxieties about visits to the physician, going to new places, and attending classes.
Assistance with Meltdowns
An autistic meltdown can happen when the person feels overwhelmed and then struggles to cope. Although they can look like a tantrum, with tears and struggles, they’re really not.
An Autism Service Dog helps by being a calming point of contact. There are several different ways they can do this, one of which is called deep pressure stimulation, and this can come from the weight of the service dog. So, this might be a small assistance dog lying on the person’s chest or a larger dog placing their head on their lap. It’s thought that this type of contact can calm the nervous system when it’s over stimulated.
Another way the service dog can help is through what’s called kinetic engagement or simply touching the dog. This can have such a soothing effect, and it might come from direct contact such as gently stroking the dog’s fur or indirect contact through grooming.
Struggling with communication can be a problem experienced by many people with autism. That can mean that they may never communicate through speaking, while others may use a tablet as a way of connecting with others. Even those individuals who can talk may have times in their lives when it becomes difficult or impossible for them to communicate in that way.
An Autism Service Dog can be a great messenger. They can do this by carrying a written message or even fetching the tablet when asked. Suddenly, their ‘voice’ can be heard.
There seems to be no end to the ways in which dogs can help us. Autism Service Dogs are a great example of this and certainly worth considering to help along your Autism Journey.