How Dogs Help Children with Autism

Did you know you can get service dogs that can help children with autism?

Children with autism are often unable to express their feelings or communicate in ways that others understand. An additional issue is that they have little sense of danger or consequence of their actions, and many of them have a tendency to bolt and wander away from anyone looking after them, which can be very dangerous.

A 2012 study looked at how the arrival of a new pet (not necessarily a service dog, or a dog at all) could positively impact on children with autism. The research found that those who got a pet from the age of five years onward triggered pro-social behavioural changes, as pets helped neuro-typical children to develop prosocial behaviours through their interactions with the animal.

A 2010 study concluded overall that dogs have a positive effect on increasing the quality of life of the children and the family.

The American charity Paws for a Cause, for example, provides service dogs to children with autism in the Michigan area. The dogs act as a constant companion for the child, helping them to improve social interactions and relationships, expand their verbal and non-verbal communications, teach them life skills, increase their interest in activities and decrease stress levels in the family.

One family who received a rescue dog from the charity said the dog had helped their child to sleep through the night. Seven-year-old Elliot didn’t like going to bed, and he would wake up at night at the slightest noise. This leads to tantrums throughout the day because he was so tired.

They applied for a service dog and got Lewis, a mixed yellow Labrador/golden retriever. Elliot now goes willingly to bed, and if he wakes in the night, he strokes Lewis until he goes back to sleep. As a result, Elliot’s parents sleep better too.

In the UK, SupportDogs runs an autism assistance programme where parents of autistic children can apply for a support dog. They can provide safety and bring about a more in dependent and socially inclusive life for the child and his or her family.

The dogs are trained to keep children safe using different methods, and reducing the risk of injury or distress, and reducing anxiety for the household. The service dogs help to make visits to local shops and family outings more achievable, and they can reduce behavioural outbursts, enabling a child to become more independent and engaged with others.

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