Ask any child if they’d like to welcome a dog into the family and chances are you’ll be met with approval. After all, they’re called man’s best friend for a reason, and these four-legged friends are excellent sources of love and companionship.
But dogs are proving to be especially beneficial to children, teens, and adults on the autism spectrum. More and more research is being conducted to discover why specially trained autism service dogs have such a positive impact. Here are a few discovered safety and wellbeing benefits of these therapy dogs:
They help prevent wandering. As many parents of children on the autism spectrum know, they are prone to wandering. And in fact, as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children points out, almost half of kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will “wander, or elope, from safe environments.”
But autism service dogs offer another layer of protection for children with ASD. As this article explains, service dogs are actually trained to have the children tethered to them. So, if a child with ASD becomes over-stimulated and tries to run away in a public place or if they try to leave the home, the dog will actually lie down, making it very difficult for the child to keep moving.
They lessen negative behaviors. Children on the autism spectrum often must cope with a great deal of anxiety and difficulties managing sensory input. As a result, they can be prone to outbursts or resort to repetitive behaviors to help them cope with and treat the anxiety or sensory overload they’re experiencing. As this article notes, service dogs can actually lessen these negative behaviors by acting as a calming presence for the child.
They help children develop new skills. If your child experiences motor skill deficiencies, new studies show that autism service dogs can actually help them hone motor skills and develop new skills. Operation Autism offers a great overview of the many studies that have been conducted to measure the impact of service dogs for people with ASD. It cites one study that found that some participants began “regulating walking pace and developing improved motor skills and control.” It also explains that in learning to care for their dogs, participants developed new skills, such as learning how to feed their dog.
They reduce stress. As I touched on above, service dogs can calm and comfort the children in their care. As DisabilityScoop.com notes, children with autism service dogs are actually physically less stressed. It notes that research has found that levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, decreased when children began working with an autism service dog.
And I would be remiss not to mention that having a service dog can be a stress reducer for other family members, too. Parents gain peace of mind in knowing that the dog will be looking out for their child at all times.
Of course, any family considering getting an autism service dog should do their due diligence first. Not all children will like being around dogs. And if your child hasn’t spent much time around dogs, it might be best to have them interact with them more frequently to see if, indeed, a service dog could be a good fit. For children who do like dogs, there is growing evidence that autism service dogs can be hugely beneficial.
Vee Cecil lives in Kentucky with her husband and two children, where she is a personal trainer, bootcamp instructor and wellness coach. She is passionate about fitness, nutrition and her family and recently launched a blog where she shares information on how to lead a happy, healthy lifestyle.