According to estimates of CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, about 1% of the world’s population has Autism Spectrum Disorder. This means about 1 in 59 children is born with Autism. Studies in Asia, Europe, and North America show that the prevalence of Autism in individuals is between 1% and 2%.
Autism usually occurs in childhood. It is a complex neurobehavioral (relating to the relationship between the action of the nervous system and the behavior) condition. People with autism face difficulties in social interaction, communication skills, developmental language and generally, follows a repetitive behavior. A sensitive child with ASD may also get troubled, sometimes even pained by sounds, touches, smells, or sights that seem normal to others.
Treatment of Autism includes Therapies, Medications, and Tele Practices. But you are missing one of the most effective treatment and that is Animal-assisted Therapy. It may increase self-confidence and other skills in children with autism. Psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and other professionals use animals, particularly dogs for autism treatment.
Dogs and Autistic Children
Although there is no exact cure for autistic people, certain ways can make your child’s life easier. One way is to take the help of a dog for an autistic child. You just have to find out the best dog for an autistic child which suits his/her nature. Most often, autistic children face difficulty in expressing their emotions and may have social phobias, separation anxiety, and mild to severe anxiety. And that’s where a patient, loyal and friendly breed of dog can help your child to overcome these problems and help them to stay calm.
What kind of dog is right for your child?
Due to better diagnosis techniques, the prevalence of ASD in US children increased nearly 120 percent over the 10-year span from 2000 to 2010. Dogs have always been one of the best pets for children. A dog has some unique qualities which make him great for this new role.
Autism assistance dogs are unique to the world of the dog helping people. Unlike the guide dogs who help with physical tasks, the autism assistance dog is there more for emotional support.
There can be three categories of dogs which can be helpful for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
These are a well-trained family pet. They can be a great companion for kids with autism. Your children will get unconditional love and friendship which will help to recover from Autism. Make them learn to take care of these dogs. This will make them responsible and practical.
These are dogs who receive proper training and official certification to do those things which can be challenging for kids with any disability. Puppies cannot be trained before a certain age. However, for the first year of their lives, they are kept with a puppy raiser. Not every dog can become a service dog. They are trained to go to a public place such as a mall where any untrained dogs are not allowed.
When you are dealing with autism, you need dogs that are very calm, very quiet and very laid back. Dogs who are loyal. friendly, forgiving of a child’s mistake, understanding and in tune with the child’s needs are ideal. While any dog with proper training can become a service dog, you should exclude breeds with traits that may make them less adept at being autism service dogs.
What autism service dogs can do is totally depends on the person they are servicing. It depends on the need of that child or adults with Autism and what they require. They can help in decreasing the anxiety level while doing different physical activities and many more things.
Does your child fear to go to hospitals and have physical or occupational therapy? If yes, then therapy dogs can be pretty useful for you. They are specifically trained to provide comfort and calmness to the patient during any therapeutic situations. You may find them in some of the hospital, mental, healthcare, nursing and speech therapy centers.
So which is best for a child with autism? Well, the answer totally depends on your requirements. It should be the perfect match both for the child with autism and their family.
To help you out here is the list of some of the best dog breeds for autistic children with their personality description.
Top 5 Service Dog Breeds for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Hard working, lovable, selfless and kind, easy to train, calm and eager-to-please personality of Labrador Retriever makes it the perfect choice for autism therapy. They are kind to everyone they meet and are a wonderful choice for bonding with children with autism.
The list of service dogs for autism is incomplete without Golden Retriever. They are gentle, loving, patient, loyal, and exceptionally easy to train. This breed has a calm temperament and decent intelligence. And this is the reason why they are trained as service or therapy dogs.
The Great Pyrenees
They are smart, patient and has a calm temperament. The Great Pyrenees can quickly spring into action and move with grace and speed to meet a threat. They are very bonded to and protective of their families. Their height is about 27 to 32 inches and this makes them quite sturdy. The Great Pyrenees aren’t barkers. So they are best for children who are sensitive to noise. It easily learns to look after and protect an autistic child.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
It is considered one of the best breed to accompany autistic children. They may look serious and dangerous but they are actually famous for their trustworthiness, loyal and loving nature. Many autistic children benefit from the love, care and, companionship which Staffies provide.
Newfoundland is a gentle giant, very intelligent, and has a relaxed temperament. They are big in size. This dog is not much hyperactive, so it is perfect for those children who are less active and prefer to keep drawing and playing in the same place. It helps autistic children to keep calm.
They are easy to train and have high levels of intelligence. It is a popular choice among families who have a child with autism. But, be sure to account for brushing time and grooming costs when considering these dogs.
How to Get a Service Dog for an Autistic Child
Getting a service dog involves two phases – Completing an Application Process and Fundraising & Training.
Phase-I: Completing an Application Process
Following steps are included in this phase-
1. Fill in the application form for your chosen assistance program.
- You have to go through an application process. For qualifying for a service animal, each assistance program has a unique set of guidelines. However, most of them are the same.
- You have to provide basic information like the name and address of the parent(s) and child.
- You also need to provide information about the child’s physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist.
2. Provide all the information related to your child condition.
- You have to describe your child’s autism and how it is affecting their daily living skills (i.e. bathing, dressing, and feeding oneself).
- You need to provide details on any medical treatments or medications they are undergoing currently. Give the information, if your child follows any restrictions or precautions related to autism.
- Also provide details about any adaptive equipment, such as crutches or a wheelchair used by a child.
3. Proof that you will be able to care for the dog.
- The next step is to assess whether you are able to care for a dog.
- The agency will inquire about who lives in the household, if you have any other pets, and the type of service dog you are seeking.
- They need to know who will be handling the dog (parent or child?) and if you will be able to provide food and grooming for the dog.
4. Tell the agency, what kind of service do you expect from the service dog.
- This is the final part of the application process. Agency needs to know what kind of service you expect from the dog.
- Tell them whether the dog will be attending school with the child.
5. Pay the application fee and provide the references.
- Pay the basic processing fee which is between $20-$40.
- Agency often requests letters of reference and this comes from professionals that work with your child.
6. Wait for the interview call and then sign the contract.
- If the agency determines that the child qualifies to get the service dog, then he along with the family can progress towards the interview.
- The interview is to know which specific training tasks the dog will need to be taught.
- After the completion of the interview, the agency will provide you with the contract and discuss the fundraising plan with you.
- Read all parts of the contract and be sensible about what your family can afford and how much money you can raise for funds.
- After this, you have officially become a client of the agency of your choice.
Phase-II: Fundraising and Training
1. Raise money in your local community and from crowdfunding.
Getting a service animal specifically trained for your child is an expensive process. So, it is important for the family to raise funds.
- You could try organizing community events to allow the community to help the family and the child.
- You can ask friends, family, neighbors and close friends to support autism by donating to your child’s cause.
2. Apply for a grant.
There are both private (company) and government grants. It may seem like an unlikely source of income, but it is a successful method for fundraising.
3. Education and Training.
After raising the funds, both the child and parents will undergo education and training.
- You and your child will work and try to coordinate with different kinds of dogs until you find the dog that is suitable for your child’s needs.
- After matching, the last 4 to 5 months will focus on child-specific training.
4. Complete the final phase of training.
- This phase of training lasts for about 1-2 weeks and is often provided by the training director, experienced trainers, or interns under the supervision of the director.
- After completion of this process, you can take your new service dog home.
Role and Responsibilities of Autism Assistance Dogs
What does an Autism service dog do?
They are specifically trained to their owner’s personal needs based on their medical condition. They may or may not include the following tasks described.
Basically, they can provide support in following symptoms-
- Communication skills – the child learns to give dog commands
- Awakening at Night – a dog will bark to alert parents
- Self Harming Behavior – a dog will interrupt behavior and alert parent
- Social Isolation – child tends to focus on dog companionship
- Reduce anxiety – a dog will crawl into a child’s lap to calm child
Autism Assistance Dogs for Children
A child with autism may have a hard time communicating with the people around them. A Service dog can help your child in this. Autistic children invite their peers to play with their dogs, then the dogs can serve as bridges to communicate with their peers. This helps them to reduce the stress of social interaction. The dogs for kids with autism act according to the instruction of parent.
These dogs provide great independence to both children as well as parents. And provides a safer environment for children so that they can feel secure.
A well-trained autism assistance dog can help to change behavior by-
- Interrupting repetitive behavior
- Introducing routines
- Helping a child cope with unfamiliar surroundings.
Autism Assistance Dogs for Adults
As a vast majority of organizations trains the autism service dogs to serve children and family, so adults with autism may find it difficult to match and coordinate with a service dog. To find Autism service dogs for adults is a long and expensive process, but for most people, it’s worth the time and expense.
Why are Service Dogs best for Autistic People?
Autism service dog abilities are amazing and they can help autistic people to make their life easier. If you’re not familiar with the benefits of autism service dogs, there are few-
Makes social situations easier
When an autistic individual has a service dog, people around him become curious about the dog. And this makes easier for them to talk to people. A dog will help him gain confidence in speaking to people they don’t know well.
They help keep children with ASD safe.
Wandering is the constant concern of parents having an autistic child. Service dogs go through special training to prevent wandering. If a child tries to do so, the dog will intervene by circling around them and barking to alert family members.
Helps to reduce anxiety.
When an autistic child goes to a crowded place, loud noises can trouble him. This situation can lead to paralyzing anxiety. An autism service dog can help to reduce this anxiety just by providing their calming presence. These dogs may also help by providing pressure by their body to the agitated person. This pressure is actually very soothing and can prove to be very helpful when a person on the spectrum becomes disturbed by their surroundings.
Children on the Autism spectrum find it difficult to make friends. In this situation, a service dog proves to be a great companion. They become a source of comfort for these people.
A case study on the Experience of families with Autism assistance dogs
According to one case study performed in 2014, a total of 134 parents/guardians with an assistance dog, and 87 parents of children on the waiting list were surveyed. The results have shown that the parents of autistic children who have an assistance dog rated their child as significantly safer from environmental dangers (p<0.001). The public acted more respectfully and responsibly towards their child compared to the parents on the waiting list. The primary constraints are the amount of dedication and commitment required to care for a dog.
Challenges and difficulties with a Service Dog
Although Service dogs are helpful for individuals with autism, there are some challenges that individual and his family have to face. These include-
- While the dog provides comfort for an autistic child at school, the extra responsibility and demands on the child related to the dog’s care are too challenging.
- Sometimes, due to the child’s extreme issues, the dog maybe no longer particularly helpful for the child. It may be at the risk of being injured by the child.
- Some school principals are unwilling to allow a service dog into their school, which prevents the child’s ability to cope in a classroom setting.
- Work involved in meeting the dog’s basic needs such as feeding, exercise, and toileting. Yet the time and effort worth it.
- Dogs often shed, and sometimes chew toys, damage lawns, become unwell, and on occasion, has accidents.
- Some of the dogs have barking issues, getting into food cupboards or garbage bins, or experience anxiety if left alone.
Queries regarding Service Dogs
How much does Autism Service Dogs Cost?
Service dogs are quite expensive because of their extensive training to work with an autistic child. Information from Autism Service Dogs of America indicates that they can cost $10,000+. Charities that provide dogs for autism assistance do so at a cost upwards of $25,842.14 per dog. But don’t let this scare you from trying to get a service dog for your child. Many training organizations provide with fundraising information for the service dog to help you get started.
Can a recipient family have other pets?
This is evaluated on an individual basis. Service dogs are well socialized to accept other animals but your pets might not accept a new canine member into the family. You must evaluate your pets’ ability to accept and tolerate a new canine household member. If you are thinking of adding a pet after receive a service dog, always remember that additional pets require time and effort to accept other dogs.
Can Dogs be Autistic?
The answer is ‘yes’. However, there are not enough studies or researches that can tell for sure what this autism in dogs is about. This condition in dogs is called “canine dysfunctional behavior” by the veterinarians. The possible cause of autism in dogs may be the lack of mirror neurons in their brain. The dog may have born with this condition, inherited from a relative, to present these symptoms.
The cause of autism in dogs is not proven scientifically yet, and it remains unknown.
You should take a decision based on your family’s unique needs. If you are looking for a companion for your child with autism; a loyal, friendly, calm, and patient dog breeds are the best options. A dog which is easy to train will be effective for your child.