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Should I Get A Dog For My Autistic Child?


One of the things that I have been thinking about for the past year or so is whether I should get a dog for our family, especially for my son who is on the Autism Spectrum.  One day in the Speech Therapy waiting room, another Mom was bragging about how their family’s new German Shepherd puppy had really taken to their autistic son and seemed to “know” that he was different and needed special TLC when they were playing.

Plus, my own son “really wanted a dog” and enjoyed going to visit our local humane society like a dog zoo, several times per month.  He was even motivated enough to ask strangers if he could pet their dogs when we were out and about.

I had volunteered as a Puppy Raiser for a guide dog puppy in the past, so had some experience with dogs, and was interested in the possibility of getting a dog again.  I wasn’t sure if I would have the time and emotional bandwidth to handle it though, so I’ve been researching it on-and-off for the last year or so.

I came across several things of interest:  Research on Dogs and Autism or ADHD (what I consider to be the “lightly effected” end of the ASD spectrum), Anecdotal stories of people with ASD and dogs; and Autism Service Dogs who are specically trained to help people with Autism.

Let’s discuss these possibilities.

Do Autisic People Have a Special Connection With Animals?

One of the things that I came across in my study of autistic spectrum disorders, is that many autistic people seem to have an ability to “connect to” or “relate with” animals, sometimes better than with people.  Anecdotally, I have heard of people with Aspergers who really liked to go and hang out outside with their pets after coming home from school.  The animals were beings with whom this Aspie could “be himself” and decompress, rather than feeling like he had to keep his act together like he did in school.

As an unscientific aside, I have recently been exposed to several articles and instances of this information which I found intriguing so I will pass on.  Some people think that some autistics are more “spiritually aware” or have a somewhat psychic ability to communicate.  I know that many people to do not believe in psychics at all, and I don’t have any first-hand experiences with anything I would consider psychic phenomenon.  However, I find the field intriguing and there is some preliminary evidence of a scientific model for this in the field of quantum physics.  (E.g. The Intention Experiment, What The Bleep Do We Know, etc.).  I also just watched a documentary last night about an “Animal Communicator” who is basically a woman who can communicate telepathically with animals.  I am just now as I write this making the connection that maybe some autistic people are more comfortable/able to communicate telepathically and are able to use that gift to communicate with animals.  I have no evidence for this, and it sounds crazy as I write it, but I’m into pushing the envelope, so there you go.  Let me know if you have any thoughts on this in the comments below.  Please.  I am very curious!

I also talked to Jackie at Thrive with Autism, who is herself a very high-functioning adult autistic woman, and she shared that she thought animals were very good at creating a loving environment, which was important for healing.  She also shared this site on Autisic Healing with the Power of Intention with me, if you care to delve further into that rabbit hole.


Is There Any Research Or Scientific Evidence that Animals Help Autistic People Improve Their Symptoms?



What Do Autism Service Dogs Do and Is That A Viable Option For My Family?

In addition, I found out that there are actually trained Autism Service Dogs who are dogs, of a variety of breeds, who are trained to assist people with Autism, just like dogs assist people who are blind, have a seizure disorder, or even diabetes.  There are all sorts of service dogs, and the only requirement is that the dog be TRAINED TO PERFORM A SPECIFIC TASK to help a person with a DEBILITATING MEDICAL DISORDER.  That means, the dog has to do something specific to help you.  It can’t just “be comforting” or “be a social bridge.”

Some tasks autism service dogs have been performed to do is to sit on someone’s lap or lie down on them to calm them when they are having a melt down.  Specifically, they can “interfere with” and “interrupt” stimming behavior to redirect the person into a more socially acceptable activity.  Additionally, many autistic children have trouble with “bolting” or running away.  By tethering a child to the autism service dog, the child may feel more grounded and pay more attention to what is going on.  And, they won’t be ABLE to run away, because the dog will anchor them in place.  If the child does escape from the house or store, the dog can act in a Search and Rescue mode, practiced with simple games of hide and seek ahead of time, and search for the lost child.

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