Service Dogs and Autistic Children – Pet Tip 253
Dogs help humans in so many ways. They help with companionship, with tasks that they carry out for us and sometimes they help make every day living much easier. Perhaps the best demonstration of this fact is when dogs help people with disabilities. Many of us have seen dogs helping blind people and many have heard of dogs that feel when a seizure in an epileptic person is about to occur and then protect them from injury. Dogs can also help aid autistic children and parents of autistic children in many ways as well. Recent studies suggest that the prevalence of autistic children in Canada may be 1 in 165 children or higher. Therefore, many people may well personally know of an autistic child in their extended family, or know of friends or acquaintances that have an autistic child. So how can dogs help these autistic children?
The National Service Dogs (NSD) organization in Ontario Canada, is one of the best organizations that specifically help train dogs to make the lives of autistic children better. You might be wondering how a service dog can be useful to autistic children. One major problem faced by parents is the bolting behavior displayed by an autistic child. It is very stressful for parents to bring their child out in public for fear of their child bolting into traffic. NSD dogs are trained to walk alongside the child while following verbal commands from the parents only. Since the dog is tethered to a belt on the child, parents can relax in public and even shop or have dinner in a restaurant with their child. In the event that a child starts to bolt, the dog’s responsibility is to sit/stay upon command from the parent, and act as an anchor, preventing the child from running away. Families with autistic children from the ages of 2-8 years old at the time of application will be considered to receive an NSD dog.
Many parents have given accounts of how much happier their children have become since the introduction of NSD dogs. Autistic children have problems with interacting and communicating with the people around them. In addition to the safety and peace of mind they provide, NSD service dogs also supply the child with dependable comfort and companionship. In fact, parents have reported fewer incidences of temper tantrums from their children after receiving an NSD dog. The children are also reported to sleep better at night; perhaps owing to an increased feeling of safety with the dog in their room.
NSD dogs are also able to help ease the transition when the autistic child goes to school. Parents, their autistic children, teachers and caregivers are all taught to handle and care for the service dog. As long as the dogs are working service dogs, they remain charges of the NSD. The service dogs are reassessed every 1-2 years to ensure that their training is maintained and that their living standards are optimal.
NSD has a rigorous screening process before families receive their service dog because they want to ensure that the dog will be well-cared for and that the families are prepared for the responsibility of a service dog. Also, NSD goes to great extents to match a dog with the family’s personality. If you know of a family who needs a service dog for an autistic child, or you would like to volunteer, please visit www.nsd.on.ca for more information.