Can a Service or Therapy Animal help Children & Adults with Special Needs?

All pets bring an undeniable level of joy to their owners through pure love, companionship, and loyalty. Service and therapy animals are hard-working pets that take their job of supporting their owner to a higher level. Discover how care animals can help children and adults with special needs.

Types of care animals

Care animals for children with disabilities perform a wide range of tasks, and can come in different categories depending on individual needs. These include service, emotional support, and therapy animals.

What is a service animal?

According to theADA, an official service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” While there are other types of support animals, such as miniature horses and helper monkeys, dogs are the only animals that have undergone specific training to qualify as a service animal. Here are a few examples of service dogs and what they can do:

  • Guide Dogs or Seeing Eye Dogs are one example of highly trained service animals that provide support to the visually impaired or blind. They help their owners navigate the world and serve as a crucial tool in traveling.
  • Hearing or Signal Dogs assist those who are hearing impaired by alerting their owner when a sound occurs, such as a ringing doorbell.
  • Dogs that have been trained to perform tasks to support individuals with disabilities are called Psychiatric Service Dogs. An example of this would be someone suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The dog can serve by reminding someone to take medications, performing safety checks in rooms, or detecting the onset of psychiatric episodes.
  • SSigDOGs, or sensory signal dogs, are trained to assist people with autism by alerting their owners to important sensory signals (like a smoke alarm), and by alerting their handler to distracting repetitive movements.
  • Service dogs can also assist people in wheelchairs with certain tasks like opening doors, pulling a wheelchair, pressing an elevator button, and fetching or carrying out-of-reach items.
  • Seizure Response Dogs are trained to specifically help a person with a seizure disorder. The type of training is custom to the individual needs. Some dogs can predict a seizure and warn their handler, while others may stand guard or go for help.

Service dogs have full public access rights, allowing them to venture into other canine-prohibited areas and provide a full scope of support at all times to their owners. Outside of certified service dogs, there are also emotional support, therapy, and working animals that can help support their owners in unique ways.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal has a very important job — providing emotional support to its owner. Sometimes called companion animals, these furry friends can help individuals with various psychological disorders. Golden retrievers, labradors, and labra-doodles make excellent companion dogs due to their calm temperament and high intelligence. Anxiety, depression, and phobias can all be eased with the right companion dog, and valuable social and practical skills are also enhanced. Patients must have a prescription from a mental health professional for an emotional support dog. While these animals do not have the same rights as service dogs, reasonable accommodations must be made. This could include no additional fees on flights or the eligibility to live in “no pet” housing with deposits waived.

What is a therapy animal?

Therapy animals work as a team with their handler to visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, healthcare facilities, and mental health facilities. These dogs have gained popularity in the autism community due to their calming presence and ability to promote social interaction.

 Benefits of a service dog for disabled children

Children and adults with developmental disabilities can benefit from having a service dog. According to Medical Home Portal, here are the top benefits of having a service dog for disabled or children with mental health conditions:

  • Increased Independence
  • Increased Awareness
  • Improved Communication
  • Safety
  • Decreased Anxiety
  • Increased Self-Esteem
  • Increased Social Interaction

Is your family ready for a service animal?

If it sounds like you or your child may benefit from a service or therapy dog, it may be prudent to ask yourself a few questions first to ensure you are prepared to take on this new furry family member. While these animals are extremely helpful to many, a new animal in the household does require some new responsibilities.

  • Does your child like dogs?
  • Does anyone in the household have allergies to dogs?
  • Are you prepared to take on the commitment and expense of caring for a dog long term?
  • Are you comfortable with handling your child while simultaneously giving commands to the dog in public?

Disability services for children and adults in Little Rock

The first step toward acquiring a service or therapy dog is to talk to your doctor to see if you or your child qualify. One’s disability must first fall under the ADA definition, and a medical professional must deem that the condition can be improved through a service animal. Children with autism can greatly benefit from working with autism assistance dogs. Emotional support or companion animals can be a great choice for families, even if they do not qualify for a service dog. Therapy animals can be great to interact with when they make their special visits.


While a service dog can be expensive, some programs do exist to help offset the cost of acquiring one. The following are some helpful sites that can provide further information about getting an assistance dog in your area:

Pet Partners

Autism Service Dogs of America

International Guide Dog Federation

Assistance Dogs International

For more information

If you or a loved one may benefit from a service animal and need some additional guidance, please contact Integrity, Inc. today at 501-406-0442 to speak with a professional.

Integrity is a non-profit family support agency that provides disability services for children in Little Rock, Arkansas. We can help you to get the support or services you need to stay well, active, and a part of the community right here in your area.

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