The 411 on Furry Assistance

The 411 on Furry Assistance By Lisa King

We are all familiar with the saying, “Dogs are a man's best friend.” However, this is more than just a saying; it's the honest truth. Dogs provide companionship, reduce stress, alleviate depression, assist the blind and have even been known to detect cancer and other health ailments in humans. Recently, newer evidence suggests that assistance dogs show great promise in providing therapeutic benefits to autistic children and their families.  Let’s examine some of this evidence.

Good Behavior

Autistic children experience challenges interacting on a social level. Showing affection is quite difficult for some. Evidence shows that children who are able to form a connection with a furry friend will be more equipped to transfer this type of relationship to the people in their environment.

Sometimes autistic children engage in disruptive behavior patterns with constant movement such as spinning, arm flapping, strange fixations and head banging. Assistance dogs are trained to decrease these behaviors by placing a paw on the child’s arm or laying their nose on the child’s foot and gently nudging them to stop the behavior. 

Happy Parents

Parents of autistic children are often challenged when their child suffers a meltdown in public settings such as eating at a restaurant or going to the supermarket. Autistic assistance dogs have been known to have a calming effect, thus reducing behavior disruptions. In addition, the dogs are trained to provide deep pressure stimulation by firmly placing their paw or body on the child until the behavior subsides.

Lack of sleep is another frequent problem that autistic children and their families have to deal with. Once again, our furry friends come to the rescue. Some children have shown improvement in their sleep patterns with the addition of a furry companion. They tend to sleep better and wake up less with a dog lying beside them.

Safety First

One of the biggest challenges parents and caregivers of autistic children face are keeping their children safe. Children suffering from autism are prone to running away or wandering off. In addition, they are experts at figuring out how to escape from a locked home. Statistics show that the death rate for autistic children is 10 times higher than for typical children, with a whopping 95% of deaths occurring from drowning. Autism service dogs can prevent children from running away and possibly encountering a life-threatening situation by being tied to the child. If the child tries to run away, the dog will lie down in front of the child, preventing him or her from bolting. The dogs are also able to quickly locate a lost child by tracking his or her scent. 

Deciding on A Pet

The decision to purchase a service animal should be a personal one. Some people may find that their child is afraid of dogs or that the dog’s odor or fur may trigger sensory disorders. In addition, service animals can be quite costly. Caregivers should carefully consider the pros and cons before purchasing a service animal.

While this lifelong companion may not be for everyone, autistic assistance dogs continue to bring joy, comfort, safety, unconditional love and peace of mind to autistic children and their families around the world.