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The Benefits of Autism Service Dogs

In this article, we'll explore the benefits of autism service dogs and how they can help individuals with autism live more fulfilling lives.

mark elias
Mark Elias
December 3, 2023

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. For individuals with autism, daily life can be challenging. Many people with autism struggle with social interaction and communication, as well as sensory issues.

These difficulties can make it challenging for individuals with autism to navigate the world around them. However, autism service dogs can provide invaluable support to individuals with autism and their families.

What are Autism Service Dogs?

Autism service dogs are specially trained dogs that provide support and assistance to individuals with autism. These dogs are trained to help with a range of tasks, including:

  • Sensory assistance: Many individuals with autism struggle with sensory processing issues. Autism service dogs can provide deep pressure therapy, which can help calm individuals with autism and reduce anxiety.
  • Social interaction: Autism service dogs can help individuals with autism improve their social skills by acting as a bridge between them and others. These dogs can help individuals with autism feel more comfortable in social situations and can even help them make new friends.
  • Safety: Autism service dogs can help keep individuals with autism safe by alerting them to potential dangers and helping them navigate unfamiliar environments.
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The Benefits of Autism Service Dogs

Autism service dogs provide a range of benefits to individuals with autism and their families. Here are just a few of the ways in which these dogs can help:

Reduced anxiety and stress

Many individuals with autism struggle with anxiety and stress. Autism service dogs can help reduce these feelings by providing deep pressure therapy and acting as a calming presence.

Improved social skills

Autism service dogs can help individuals with autism improve their social skills by acting as a bridge between them and others. These dogs can help individuals with autism feel more comfortable in social situations and can even help them make new friends.

Increased independence

Autism service dogs can help individuals with autism become more independent by helping them with tasks such as navigating unfamiliar environments and alerting them to potential dangers.

Improved quality of life

Overall, autism service dogs can improve the quality of life for individuals with autism and their families. These dogs provide invaluable support and assistance and can help individuals with autism live more fulfilling lives.

The Training Process of Autism Service Dogs

Autism service dogs undergo extensive training to prepare them for their role. The training process typically takes around 18 months and involves working with a professional dog trainer in a variety of settings.

During the training process, autism service dogs learn a range of skills, including:

  • Sensory support: Dogs are taught to recognize signs of anxiety or distress in their owners and respond with deep pressure therapy or other calming techniques.
  • Social interaction: Dogs are trained to help individuals with autism improve their social skills by encouraging interaction with others.
  • Safety: Dogs learn to identify potential dangers and alert their owners, as well as guiding them through unfamiliar environments.

The training process also includes teaching the dog basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel. Additionally, the dogs are trained to be comfortable in a variety of public settings such as stores, restaurants, and public transportation.

Once the initial training is complete, the dog is matched with an individual with autism based on factors such as personality and lifestyle. After placement, the dog continues to receive ongoing training and support from its handler to ensure that it can provide the best possible assistance.

Breeds of Dogs Used as Autism Service Dogs

There are several breeds of dogs that are commonly used as autism service dogs. Here are some of the most popular:

Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers are a popular choice for autism service dogs due to their friendly and gentle nature. They are social, intelligent, and easy to train, making them an excellent companion for individuals with autism.

Labrador Retrievers

Labrador Retrievers are another popular choice for autism service dogs. They are highly trainable, loyal, and energetic, which makes them well-suited for tasks such as sensory support and safety assistance.

Standard Poodles

Standard Poodles are known for their intelligence and trainability. They have a calm demeanor and hypoallergenic coat, which makes them an ideal choice for individuals with allergies.

Bernese Mountain Dogs

Bernese Mountain Dogs are large, gentle dogs that make excellent companions for individuals with autism. They have a calm temperament and can provide support in a variety of ways, including sensory assistance and safety alerts.

These breeds are not the only ones used as autism service dogs but they are among the most common due to their temperament, trainability, and ability to perform specific tasks required by individuals with autism.

How to Select the Right Autism Service Dog?

Selecting the right autism service dog is crucial for ensuring that the individual with autism receives the support they need. Here are some factors to consider when selecting an autism service dog:

Temperament

The temperament of the dog is an important consideration when selecting an autism service dog. The dog should be calm, patient, and friendly, as well as able to handle potentially stressful situations without becoming anxious or agitated.

Training

The level of training required will depend on the specific needs of the individual with autism. Some individuals may require a highly trained dog that can perform specific tasks, while others may only need a companion animal. It's important to work with a reputable organization that provides well-trained dogs and ongoing support.

Size and Energy Level

The size and energy level of the dog should also be considered. Some individuals may benefit from a larger dog that can provide deep pressure therapy, while others may prefer a smaller or medium-sized dog. Additionally, it's important to consider the energy level of the dog and whether it matches the lifestyle of the individual with autism.

Allergies

If an individual has allergies, it's important to choose a hypoallergenic breed such as a Standard Poodle or Goldendoodle.

Lifestyle

It's important to consider the lifestyle of both the individual with autism and their family when selecting an autism service dog. For example, if the family travels frequently, it's important to choose a dog that is comfortable in different environments and can handle travel.

By considering these factors when selecting an autism service dog, individuals with autism can find a companion that will provide them with invaluable support and assistance in their daily lives.

The Legal Rights and Protections Afforded to Individuals with Autism Who Use Service Dogs

Individuals with disabilities, including those with autism, are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law provides legal rights and protections for individuals who use service dogs. According to the ADA, service dogs are defined as dogs that are specifically trained to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities.

Under the ADA, individuals with disabilities who use service dogs have the right to bring their dog into most public places, including restaurants, stores, and hotels. Additionally, individuals with disabilities cannot be charged extra fees or deposits for bringing their service dog.

It's important to note that emotional support animals (ESAs) and therapy dogs are not considered service animals under the ADA. While ESAs and therapy dogs can provide important support and assistance, they do not receive the same legal protections as service dogs.

Individuals with autism who use service dogs should be aware of their legal rights under the ADA. By understanding these rights and protections, individuals can ensure that they receive the support they need from their service dog while also navigating public spaces without discrimination or resistance.

The Cost of Obtaining and Caring for an Autism Service Dog

Obtaining and caring for an autism service dog can be a significant financial investment. The cost of obtaining an autism service dog can vary depending on the organization providing the dog and the level of training required. On average, the cost of obtaining an autism service dog can range from $10,000 to $25,000.

In addition to the initial cost of obtaining an autism service dog, there are ongoing expenses associated with caring for the dog. These expenses include food, grooming, veterinary care, and equipment such as leashes and vests. It's important for individuals considering an autism service dog to factor in these ongoing expenses when making their decision.

Despite the cost, many families find that the benefits of having an autism service dog far outweigh the financial investment. For families who cannot afford the cost of obtaining an autism service dog, there are organizations that provide financial assistance or help individuals fundraise to cover the costs.

How to Support Organizations That Train and Provide Autism Service Dogs?

Supporting organizations that train and provide autism service dogs is crucial for ensuring that individuals with autism have access to these valuable resources. Here are some ways in which you can support these organizations:

  • Donate: Many organizations that provide autism service dogs rely on donations to fund their programs. Consider making a donation to an organization that trains and provides autism service dogs.
  • Volunteer: Organizations that train and provide autism service dogs often need volunteers to help with tasks such as socializing puppies, fundraising, and administrative work.
  • Spread awareness: Share information about the benefits of autism service dogs and the organizations that provide them with your friends, family, and community. This can help raise awareness about the importance of these dogs and encourage others to support these organizations.
  • Attend fundraising events: Many organizations that train and provide autism service dogs hold fundraising events throughout the year. Attend these events or donate items for auction to support their efforts.

By supporting organizations that train and provide autism service dogs, you can help ensure that individuals with autism have access to the support they need to lead fulfilling lives.

The Training Process for Handlers of Autism Service Dogs

Handlers of autism service dogs also undergo extensive training to prepare them for their role. The training process typically involves working with a professional dog trainer in a variety of settings. Handlers learn how to communicate with their dog effectively, recognize signs of stress or anxiety in their dog, and provide ongoing support and care.

During the training process, handlers learn a range of skills, including:

  • Basic obedience commands: Handlers are taught how to give basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel.
  • Task-specific training: Depending on the needs of the individual with autism, handlers may receive task-specific training such as how to use a tether or help their dog provide deep pressure therapy.
  • Public access training: Handlers are trained on how to navigate public spaces with their dog and ensure that they comply with laws and regulations regarding service animals.

Additionally, handlers receive education on the legal rights and protections afforded to individuals with disabilities who use service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes information about where service dogs are allowed and what types of questions businesses can ask about the dog.

Once the initial training is complete and the handler is matched with an individual with autism, they continue to receive ongoing support from the organization that provided the service dog. This includes regular check-ins, guidance on handling specific situations that may arise, and additional training if necessary.

FAQs

What is the evidence supporting the use of autism service dogs?

While there is limited research on the effectiveness of autism service dogs, anecdotal evidence suggests that these dogs can provide invaluable support and assistance to individuals with autism. Some studies have found that interacting with animals, including dogs, can lead to improved mental health outcomes such as reduced anxiety and increased social skills.

Can any dog be trained as an autism service dog?

No, not all dogs are suitable for training as autism service dogs. Dogs that are selected for training must have the appropriate temperament, trainability, and size/energy level to perform tasks required by individuals with autism. Additionally, certain breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are more commonly used as autism service dogs due to their friendly nature and ability to perform specific tasks.

How long does it take to train an autism service dog?

The training process for an autism service dog typically takes around 18 months. During this time, the dog undergoes extensive training in a variety of settings to prepare them for their role as a support animal.

How do I apply for an autism service dog?

To apply for an autism service dog, individuals should contact a reputable organization that provides these animals. The application process typically involves filling out a form and providing information about the individual's needs and lifestyle. Once accepted into a program, individuals may need to provide additional information or participate in interviews before being matched with a dog.

Are there any legal protections for individuals who use autism service dogs?

Yes, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals with disabilities who use service animals such as autism service dogs are protected from discrimination and have the right to bring their animal into most public places. Additionally, individuals with disabilities cannot be charged extra fees or deposits for bringing their service dog.

What if I can't afford an autism service dog?

While obtaining an autism service dog can be costly, there are organizations that provide financial assistance or help individuals fundraise to cover the costs. Individuals should research these options and consider reaching out to organizations for support.

Conclusion

Autism service dogs are a valuable resource for individuals with autism and their families. These specially trained dogs provide support and assistance in a range of areas, including sensory assistance, social interaction, and safety. By improving the quality of life for individuals with autism, autism service dogs are truly man's best friend.

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