Deciding on whether your autistic child needs a service dog boils down to a few factors. It’s not an easy decision to make, but it can be one that changes your child’s life for the better. Read on to learn how service dogs can help children on the autism spectrum.
Why get a service dog for your autistic child?
A service dog for your autistic child might be the answer your family is looking for. Here are some reasons why.
Autistics and animals share a special bond
Generally speaking, autistic people connect with animals easier than they do with people. Animals tend to focus more on subtle behaviors that non-autistic adults don’t pick up on as easily.
Cats and dogs specifically are known to adapt to their owners. My cat used to meow excessively to grab my attention, but I’m Hard of Hearing and would wear noise-canceling earbuds to silence ambient noise. She instead learned to touch me for attention and even understands some sign language.
Service dogs are trained to identify subtle changes in demeanor and respond in a way that helps their companion.
Service dogs are trained for your child’s specific needs
Service dogs aren’t just dogs who have been trained to behave well. They are dogs who have been trained to care for the specific needs of their person. One person’s service dog isn’t going to have the same skills as another.
I’ve seen service dogs who help cool down their owner’s autistic meltdowns and others who would maintain their human’s personal space in grocery stores.
That said, your state, province, or country might have specific requirements for service dogs, so check your local council office to determine whether your service dog has to be professionally trained. In my state, the only requirement is that the service dog is capable of fulfilling a need specific to the person’s disability — and the disabled person can train them.
Service dogs help socialize children
Children know and bully kids who aren’t like them. Late-diagnosed autistic adults frequently talk about how they were bullied on the playground, without understanding why.
Having a pet helps teach responsibility and provides children with a companion. A service dog can do both for an autistic child, while also helping them meet their needs.
A service dog could help your autistic child:
- Eat on time
- Cool down or stop a meltdown
- Get help when hurt
Having a furry companion who meets your needs and keeps you safe benefits the mind and body.
I was recommended to have a service dog, but I’m not a dog person and instead asked to have an emotional support animal. My cat is my baby and best friend, and I take care of myself because it’s the only way I’m able to take care of her. This dynamic doesn’t make much sense to non-autistic people, but it doesn’t have to.
If your doctor doesn’t think assistance animals are important, or that your child needs a service dog, but you want to pursue it — don’t stop there. You are allowed to get a second opinion.
How to get a service dog for autism
If you want to get a service dog for yourself or your child, seek out local resources first. These are often cheaper than nationwide services. Your primary doctor’s office, therapist, school, library or local disability organization chapter will have more resources tailored to you than what you might find on the internet. This is because they know it’s required for service dogs in your area, and the Internet isn’t always reliable.
Some service dog programs offer funding options like scholarships, grants, fundraising, and payment plans. The bare minimum is written documentation from your doctor and a dog capable of meeting the disabled person’s needs.
If your region allows you to train your service dog yourself, and you have the patience for it, it costs much less than a dog trainer. Any dog that is trained to be a service dog can be one, regardless of breed or size. Your “perfect” service dog could be found at your local shelter or rescue.
Frequently asked questions
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Adelaide Dupont says
The cat makes a lot of sense.
[and I like the way she adapted to your need for attention – changing the modality from sound to touch]
I know a lot of anxious and depressed people take care of their pets for the same or similar reasons that you did/do of the cat.
One of my close friends is a canine behaviourist and police dog trainer.
Good point, too, about local or regional services.