Animals have commonly been used to help individuals who require some type of specialized assistance. For instance, seeing-eye dogs have been used by individuals with visual impairments for more than 100 years to navigate their physical environments. While service dogs are known to provide the basic services of security and protection, these animals have also been used by people for emotional and psychological support.
The increase in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has resulted in an increase in therapies that can help people with autism. More recently, service dogs have been specially trained to work with people with autism. Advocates of autism service dogs maintain that these dogs help support the special challenges that people with ASD face. Keep reading for an overview of how autism service dogs are used, including the benefits they provide.
What Are Autism Service Dogs?
As stated by the ADA, a service dog is one that has been trained specifically to work with or carry out tasks for an individual who has a disability. Autism service dogs are called SSigDOGs, also known as social signal dogs or sensory signal dogs, and are trained solely for helping people with autism. They can alert the person with autism when they are performing distracting forceful, repetitive movements, such as hand flapping, and encouraging the person to cease the movement. They are also trained to let their owner know of any important sensory signals, such as a smoke alarm.
What Is the Difference Between Autism Service Dogs and Other Service Dogs?
All service dogs are trained to bond singularly with the person whom they were trained to help. That being said, autism service dogs are actually trained to bond with and take commands from the parents or caretakers. Then, they are trained to assist the child with autism.
How Are Autism Service Dogs Used?
An autism dog is trained specifically to be of aid to a person with autism. There are two main objectives for these types of dogs.
Autism service dogs are primarily considered to be service dogs, which means their number one mission is to keep the individual with autism safe. For example, when a person with ASD is out and about with their service dog, they will generally be physically connected to their animal with a leash. In this way, the dog can help lower the chance of the individual trying to bolt or cross a busy street. Service dogs are trained to adhere to commands given by parents, stop in doorways, and counter or stop the movement of a child trying to get away.
The dogs have also been trained to let parents know of any potentially dangerous situation that arises at night. For instance, if a child with autism wakes up unhappy or gets up in the middle of the night and walks around, the dog will alert the parents. This helps keep the individual with autism safe and helps parents and caretakers remain calmer and happier knowing any safety concerns that might arise at night are less of a concern due to the service dog.
More Than Physical Safety
Proponents of autism service dogs argue that these dogs do more than just enhance the physical safety of the person with ASD. It is believed that the dogs are a calming presence that can decrease and even put a stop to emotional outbursts. Advocates claim these dogs help deal with environments that are over-stimulating, stressful situations, and reading social cues. A few additional ways service dogs are useful for kids with autism include:
- Helps out with conversation skills: When anyone is out in public with a pet, that animal is sure to become a focal point. This is especially useful for children with autism because just the mere presence of the service dog will encourage conversation. People may be curious about the name, breed, or age of the dog, and the child is able to memorize these answers. Thus, when asked about the dog frequently, they can become confident in these conversations.
- Helps with other communication skills: At first with an autism service dog, the parent or caretaker acts as a buffer between the child and the dog, teaching the child which commands to give to make the dog act accordingly. As the child learns how to interact and communicate with their dog, they must communicate with the parent or caretaker. Over time, this builds skills for communicating and interacting with others.
- Assists with eye contact: Eye contact is uncomfortable and challenging for children with autism. An autism service dog helps with this because they are trained to look their owner or handler in the eyes. This, in turn, gives the child practice in making eye contact. Eventually, they will find it less challenging and more comfortable to make eye contact with their dog, which helps them grow more comfortable looking other people in the eyes.
- Encourages social cues and empathy: An autism service animal is a great model to use to help an individual with autism learn to read body language. By observing their dog and using the body language as cues to determine its wants and needs, an individual can pick up on ways to read other people, including facial expressions and body language. Being able to read others teaches the ability to pick up on and interpret social cues. By working regularly with their service dog, the child with autism can expand their social development, and grow confident in their ability to read social situations and interact in them.
For More Information
If you want to learn more or have questions about the benefits of a service dog for your child with autism, we can help here at Integrity, Inc. We have numerous resources about service animals, in addition to the services we’ve been providing for individuals with autism for over 30 years. Contact us online or call 501-406-0442 today!