By Yuriana Figueroa, student writer
Date: March 6, 2019

Service Dogs for Those on the Spectrum

Service animals leave their mark

Over the years, service animals have proven to make a difference in people’s lives. People with different disabilities have benefitted physically and emotionally because of these service animals. Not only do these trained animals, including dogs, offer guidance, but they also provide emotional support.

That being said, many people refer to them as “eye-seeing” or “hearing” dogs, which is not always true. When it comes to individuals with autism, specially trained autism service dogs are available to assist those on the spectrum in a number of ways.

Benefits of autism service dogs

People have said for centuries that a dog represents “man’s best friend.” Those who concur with this statement may also agree that their furry friend encompasses the meaning of love and loyalty. For those reasons, adopting an autism service dog, when appropriate, can positively impact an individual’s life.

With mood changes, anxiety and stress being potential incidences for those on the spectrum, having a service dog may potentially lower or ease the frequency of these occurrences. An individual can learn to feel safe and loved in times of distress by establishing a connection with a specially trained service dog.

A bond between an individual with autism and a service dog can flourish through interaction. This connection also motivates the owner to veer away from isolation. The English novelist George Eliot once said, “Animals are such agreeable friends―they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms,” which creates a sense of non-judgment during tough situations.

Beyond the establishment of a connection, 4 Paws for Ability explains that these dogs have the means to provide their owners with safety benefits, such as tracking, by using their sense of smell and locating their owner if they get lost or wander off. Tethering is also used to prevent an individual from wandering off. This occurs through a system of leash attachments that alert these dogs of any sudden sensory changes a person with autism may experience.

Improved sleeping habits, developing a sense of responsibility and other skills are a few additional benefits that may be achieved through the integration of a service dog into a person with autism’s life.

How to determine if a service dog is the right fit

When thinking of getting a dog or any pet in particular, the process can be challenging and should be well thought out beforehand. This is especially applicable when deliberating about adopting a service dog, as there are crucial factors to take into consideration prior to the adoption.

It is important to assess the household environment as a whole and determine if the addition of a dog will not be an issue with other family members and the possible candidate themselves. A dog should not interfere with any health-related situations which could worsen or create further complications. In terms of the applicant, their feelings toward a dog should also be highly considered.

Time and level of responsibility and commitment are also crucial factors to weigh before applying for a service dog. Service dogs should not be confused for traditional pets, as they are working animals, and their purpose goes beyond the typical need of a non-service companion. Much like a regular household dog, service dogs will need to be taken care of financially and will require veterinary care.

The application process

After considering the idea of welcoming an autism service dog into the life of somebody with autism, there is an application process that follows. As with most applications, a person must meet certain qualifications to be considered as a candidate for a service dog.

Requirements may vary depending on the organization(s) in a designated area. The 4 Paws for Ability organization emphasizes a safe environment for the dog to live in, as well as the financial means to care for the dog when considering an applicant. This organization also caters to children and adults who are diagnosed with more than one disability and tailors its programs for every individual.

There are additional costs to having a service dog, as specialized training is required. For the most part, financial assistance may be provided for applicants through fundraising, if costs are an issue. Consult each organization individually to evaluate specific costs for training an autism service dog.

The following are the standard requirements during the application process:

  1. Application Form
  2. Reference Letter
  3. Health Form

Autism service dog organizations that operate in America

International search for autism service dogs