Autism can present many obstacles for both the affected child and his or her parents, and although more and more is being learned about this disorder every day, the exact cause still remains a bit of a mystery, making effective treatment extremely challenging. One treatment that is gaining popularity, however, chiefly due to the positive reports and feedback regarding its effectiveness, is the use of assistance dogs. In this article we will take a closer look at autism and its accompanying symptoms, along with some information on how assistance dogs are making a very constructive difference in the lives of autistic children.
What is Autism? Autism is a developmental disorder that affects approximately 1 out of every 150 children, with the first symptoms usually surfacing sometime after the first year of life. Generally, autism is characterized by a triad of symptoms which includes impairment in language development, a severe delay in the development of social skills and the presence of both restrictive and repetitive behaviors. One of the mysteries of autism is that it affects people to varying degrees. Classified as a “spectrum disorder,” autism symptoms can range from profound disability, in which language and social development are almost nonexistent, to very mild, as seen in people with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Autism may also cause other health issues. Many children with autism, for example, experience a high rate of seizures and gastrointestinal difficulties. Service dog laws Colorado
Assistance Dogs and Autism-Most people have probably heard of assistance dogs that can aid the blind and those with physical disabilities, but can these dogs help with autism? According to recent reports, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes.” Studies have shown that these assistance dogs, when properly trained for specific tasks aimed at helping those with autism, can be a very effective tool for both social development and behavior modification. The use of assistance dogs, at least in the world of autism, is fairly new territory, and although the training facilities for autism dogs are few in numbers, recent demand has prompted a dramatic increase in these services. Currently, the average waiting time for an autism service dog is 2-3 years, but experts believe the wait time will diminish greatly as more and more trainers begin offering these services.
Training assistance dogs to work with autistic children presents many challenges and can be a lengthy process which continues even after the dog has been relinquished to the child and his family. Below are some of the specific tasks these dogs can be trained to perform, all of which will help in the daily functioning of those suffering from autism: Work as a Team. Typically, autism dogs are taught to work as part of a team. Since the child may not be able to completely assume the role of handler, the autism dog is usually handled with one leash being held by the child (usually attached to the dog’s waist with a harness) and one that the parent will hold (usually attached to the collar). The assistance dog will have to learn to differentiate between the two leashes, discriminating between the cues of the handler and the desires of the child.
Behavior Modification. Assistance dogs can be very effective working with children who have a tendency to wander away or bolt in open settings. They can also alert the parent when the child is beginning to approach an area that is may endanger the child’s life. These services allow the child to have a limited amount of freedom and can help parents with general supervision.