Autism service dog
An autism service dog is a service dog trained to assist a person with autism, to help them gain independence, confidence, and the ability to perform activities of daily living similar to anyone else. For the most part, these dogs are trained to perform tasks similar to those of service dogs for other sensory processing disorders.
Autism service dogs are trained to help the handler process sensory information. Many autism service dogs are trained in work/obstacle avoidance (similar to a guide dog) to help the handler with visual stimuli. Dog breeds recommended for those on the autism spectrum include: Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, or other gentle breeds of high intelligence and trainability.
As with hearing dogs for the deaf, the dogs may also be trained to alert their handler to important noises or other things requiring human intervention, such as smoke or a smoke alarm, a crying baby, a telephone ringing, or a knock at the door. For a person with autism, it may not be immediately obvious which of the many external stimuli is the urgent one requiring their immediate attention. A person with autism may have to sort through both major and minor stimuli—the sound of crickets, the smell of the fabric softener on their clothes, a car driving past outside—to determine which of these, if any, needs their attention. They may understand that a smoke alarm is urgent and requires them to exit the building, but it might take more time.
How service dogs are trained to respond to certain behaviors:
|Self-stimulation||Will signal handler to behavior, handler may choose to stop|
|Self harming||Will interrupt behavior|
|Overstimulation/meltdown/shutdown||Deep pressure tasks: step on foot, paws on lap, lie on handler|
|Poor balance/motor control||Counterbalance, brace for stability|
|Disorientation||Find the car, go home, find other specified places|
|Auditory scene analysis||Alert to important sounds|
|Visual processing problems||Guide work - steer around obstacles|
In addition to the above responses, there are three major ways a service dog can help, especially with children:
- To help prevent the child from wandering or running away (either by tethering, or by search/rescue).
- To help with self-soothing during melt-downs. The tactile stimulation, whether by petting, hugging, or having the dog actually lie on the child, can help the child learn the skills of calming themselves.
- Socialization (including serving as a "social bridge", so as children and adults come over and ask about the dog, the child with autism is prompted to answer. The parent should not answer questions, but should refer all inquiries to the child. Thus with the dog, rather than having just the parent or teacher try to bring the child out of their own world, the entire community is talking to the child.)
A long-term study of service dogs and children with autism reported:
- “Highly significant increase in pro-social behavior with a parallel decrease in self-absorption."
- "Fewer autistic behaviors - examples include clicking noises, repetitive spinning or jumping or hand-posturing (stimming), and bolting or roaming."
- "More socially-appropriate behaviors (such as reaching up for hugs, frequently imitating the therapist's actions, joining or initiating games).”
Service dogs in the UK
In the UK, assistance\service dogs are trained and supported by charitable organizations; often founded to train dogs for people with physical disabilities, they then add programs to train dogs for children with autism.
- Guide dog
- Hearing dog
- Medical response dog
- Mobility assistance dog
- Psychiatric service dog
- Seizure dog
- Echo Armman. "Service Dogs and Autism". Autism-World. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
- Service Dog Central - Tasks for Autism Service Dogs Retrieved on January 28, 2008.
-  Redefer, L. A., & Goodman, J. F. (1989), Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19(3), 461-467