Both adults and children with disabilities can benefit from having a service dog. The results are hard-won but can be astounding. Some individuals with Autism even achieve independence in their daily lives because of their service dog. It takes persistence and constant training to work with a service dog for special needs, so be prepared for the long haul.
The best-case scenario is that your special needs loved one finds a dog, is able to connect with the dog, train with the dog, and use the dog to help them in their daily lives. This does happen. However, the road is long and bumpy when it comes to finding a suitable dog.
Out of over 500,000 service dogs in the US, choosing the right one can be more than a little challenging, but we interviewed real moms and asked about how service dogs have helped their children.
Stories From the Moms
One mom, Susan L. shared her story about her child’s service dog. Her child has Autism Spectrum Disorder and they believed that she would benefit from a service dog. The family found a certified trainer, got a dog, and were working towards getting the dog fully official as a service dog.
They invested a lot of time and money. They even trained it themselves to find a lost person in case their daughter went missing. Children with Autism sometimes have a dangerous tendency to elope. This means that the Autistic individual doesn’t understand the dangers of going off on their own and can be in peril while they are alone without supervision.
However, after the family had the trainee service dog for a while, the dog began to change. It was a sweet and loving addition to their family, but because of an unanticipated hormone change in the dog, it was no longer suitable for service dog work.
Even after the long process of getting through training and great expense, this family still did not have a service dog. However, this did not mean that their dog was not part of their family. The dog loves their ASD child and provides help to their child in many ways.
The dog helps to calm the child by allowing the child to lay her head on her and feel her fur. The dog is a part of their family and a calming presence to their ASD child.
Another mom, Pheonix R., shared her story with service dogs for her special needs child. She is a dog breeder and has successfully bred 6 dogs who have become service dogs. She gave her son a dog when the dog was 4 weeks old and they bonded well.
The mother shared that her son’s dog knows how to stop her son’s self-harming behaviors and how to help him avoid an anxiety attack. The dog also assists her son from going to sleep and staying asleep by providing deep pressure by laying on her son.
This mom shared a few tips for families who are hoping to get a service dog.
1. Remember that the service dog is a “tool” and not a pet. Be sure not to distract the service dog from helping his owner. We wouldn’t play with someone’s wheelchair, so we should not distract a service dog from their duties.
2. Allow the Autistic individual to care for their own service animal. They should feed, bathe, and care for their dogs.
And if you’re just starting out, here are a few beginner tips to consider:
1. Get in touch with someone who trains service dogs to help choose the dog.
2. Find a good match for your child from a breeder or even from the pound.
3. You can also train the dog yourself to perform service dog duties.
4. You can also breed the dogs yourself if you are able.
Some Cautions about Service Dogs
Bridgette P. cautions that 1 out of 5 service dogs in training do fail out of training. Here are some reasons that she shared that service dogs “fail” in being able to do service duties.
Certifications for service dogs do not exist, so don’t expect to get a certification for your animal. There are scams that offer a “certification,” but these are not legitimate.
Also, service dogs do not have to wear a vest. Be aware as you are out in public with your animal that the only things that people can ask about your service animal are: “Is this dog trained for a specific disability” and “what is the task for this animal?”
A service dog should only focus on their handler and nothing else.
Can a Service Dog Take a Break?
A service dog can be cued into when they are working and when they are not working by putting on their vest and take off their service vest. This way the dog is able to take a break.
Before You Get a Dog
Bridgette P. shared some final tips about service dogs. Not all animals are able to be service animals. You need an animal with good temperament, exceptional intelligence, and a bond with the handler, dog and person with ASD. If one of these fails, then your service dog may “fail out” of their duties.
1. Be sure that your child will actually respond well to a dog. Some ASD children do not respond well to dogs or are not gentle enough to have a dog.
2. Decide ahead of time what you want the service dog to do for your child.
3. Be sure that your child is not allergic to the breed of dog you choose.
If you feel that your child would benefit from having a service dog, there are lots of ways to get started, even though it may take a while.
If you feel that your child would benefit from a service dog, don’t be discouraged by the fact that it may take a while. Simply take the task one day at a time and seek help. There are organizations that can help you with training your dog.
There are also scholarships for children to find and train a service dog. Do some research and contact your local organizations. CKDogs is one option to help you begin your search.
Be sure to find a trainer that you, your child, and your service animal connect with. Training is not a one-time thing. Training remains constant as long as the animal performs the duties of a service dog.
There’s more information on YouTube for service dogs who have truly connected with their adult ASD owners and help them immensely with their day-to-day activities in a way that allows the adult with a disability to remain independent when they may not otherwise have been able to live on their own.
This video shows a person with ASD who uses a service dog to help her not to lose important things like her keys and her phone, and even to get help for her if she is unable to ask for help because she is having a meltdown.
With a little work and research, service dogs can be very helpful for adults and children with Autism and become a valuable part of your family.