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The unconditional love and emotional support given by a service dog are immensely helpful to the child with autism and his or her family. By simply being there, a service dog provides the calming reassurance to its child who may be experiencing sensory overload, a common component of autism.
When 11-year-old Zac becomes emotionally overwhelmed and inconsolable, his dog, Bunker, soothes him. That’s when his parents bring Zac to Bunker and have him start petting his dog. Sometimes, Bunker lays on Zac and he instantly starts to calm down, allowing everyone else to become calm as well.
When by its child’s side, an autism service dog helps by giving him or her a focal point, or a way to ground their random, unceasing environmental experiences.
Running or Wandering
Wandering and a lack of awareness regarding personal safety, which may result in a child walking into traffic, are also key behavioral aspects of autism. Autism service dogs are trained to keep a child from bolting. Initially, a child can be tethered from a dog’s harness or vest to prevent running. Ultimately, the child holds a handle from the dog’s harness and an adult holds the leash.
Oblivious to dangerous situations, Jacob had no self-preservation skills, even with constant reminders. As a result, he always held his mom’s hand because that was what he was told to do and Jacob is a rule follower. But “he was getting too old to hold my hand in stores. There was no dignity to it,” she explains. Having Hattie’s leash to hold anchors Jacob and keeps him safe.
Many children with autism have difficulty relating to people, including their families. Some kids make strange noises, are non-verbal or engage in compulsive, repetitive behavior. These behaviors can and often do, alienate people, especially classmates who can be incredibly cruel. A service dog opens the door to social interaction because people want to pet it or ask questions. A service dog can serve as a bridge to the outside world, by being a companion providing unconditional love and support in challenging social situations.
Daniel is sweet and wants to hug people who may not be receptive to his affection. It is heartbreaking to hear the crack in his mother’s voice when she says she wonders if Danny will ever have friends. “Some kids think Danny is quirky and stay away from him, but I know this dog will love him, quirks and all.”
The kindness and gentleness of the autism service dog helps a child just by being by his or her side. Our dogs are specifically trained to meet the individual needs of its child, helping the child develop social norms and reach his or her full potential.
Puff Darlin Chris & Jan McCormick Karen Putzke David & Karen Frances Carolyn & Doug Greene
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