If you have a child with autism, you know better than anyone that they have a unique and complex set of needs. As a result, you also know that their needs sometimes require interesting and creative solutions. One tool you may have never considered is a dog.
According to Dogs for Good, there has been some promising research about the positive effect that dogs have on autistic children. Specifically, research from the University of Lincoln has indicated that children with autism have fewer emotional meltdowns when they are in the presence of a pet dog. Consequently, parents’ stress levels are much lower. Additionally, dogs have been found to boost autistic children’s confidence levels and reduce their anxiety levels. Finally, dogs can also help improve communication and can foster a stronger sense of togetherness amongst families.
Here are five incredible ways dogs can help kids with autism living fuller and more accessible lives. We also offer some helpful guidance on choosing the right breed for your child with autism.
1. Road Safety
Your child may need some extra support when crossing the road, but they may also want the same levels of independence that every other child has. Fortunately, a dog can provide that extra safety support needed even when you can’t be around. Dogs can be trained to provide safety intervention to improve your kid’s road-safety awareness. With this added safety, you can rest easy with the peace of mind that your child is as secure as possible.
2. Sensory Support
Children with autism are sometimes susceptible to anxiety attacks or emotional outbursts. Sometimes, specialists use a technique called deep-pressure tactile input to treat these symptoms of autism. Specific tactics include touch techniques, such as massaging, squishing a ball, or applying weighted lap pads or weighted blankets.
According to Penn Medicine, the pressure shifts your autonomic nervous system into “rest” mode. This subsequently reduces some symptoms of anxiety, including a fast heart rate or shallow breathing.
Believe it or not, a dog can easily apply the same principles under deep-pressure tactile input. Many dogs are trained to sense when their owners are experiencing anxiety attacks. They will then put their heads or bodies in their owner’s lap to provide them with a sense of overall calm.
3. Overcoming Fear
For someone who is neurodivergent – such as a child with autism – the world can sometimes be a scary place. Trying new things, like a new food dish or a new walking route home from school, can feel overly daunting. As a result, they can be held back from experiencing all that life has to offer and discovering their true potential.
With the help of a dog, trying new things can sometimes seem less scary. Your child will know they have a trusted friend by their side every step of the way. This can provide an overall sense of calm even in the face of fear and uncertainty.
4. Social Engagement
One of the defining traits of autism is social dysfunction, meaning most people with autism struggle to socialize comfortably. The manifestations of social dysfunction can vary widely, from avoiding socialization altogether to monopolizing conversations. In children, these troubles with socialization can sometimes be even more exaggerated and overwhelming.
However, a dog can help kids with autism feel more confident and comfortable in social situations. A furry friend can help them break the ice with their peers and feel more at ease when mingling in large social scenes. Dogs can also help divert the attention of autistic children away from irrelevant distractions, which can pose a threat to seamless socialization. A dog can be an excellent way of improving your autistic child’s social skills.
When you live with any kind of disability or developmental disorder, it can be isolating. Unfortunately, people are sometimes afraid or confused by what they can’t relate to. As a result, children with autism can find themselves feeling isolated and lonely.
Several studies have backed this notion, showing that children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) do report higher levels of loneliness compared to their non-clinical peers.
If you give your child a dog, however, these feelings of loneliness can be greatly alleviated. If you ask any dog owner, they’ll likely tell you themselves how much love and companionship a dog provides, but there’s research to back this claim as well. As reported by The Conversation, there are several indicators showing that dogs really can chase away feelings of loneliness in their owners.
Finding the Right Breed
When it comes to selecting the best dog for autistic child, there are several compatible breeds to choose from. They have the gentle temperaments and high levels of intelligence required to help your kid live the best lives possible.
Some of the best dog breeds for children with autism include (but are not limited to):
- Golden Retriever – Intelligent, friendly, and quick learners. Their energy levels perfectly match that of a household with rambunctious growing children.
- Labrador Retriever – Affectionate, gentle, and easy to train. Their easy-going nature makes them patient enough to live with children with autism.
- Newfoundlander – Loyal, unaggressive, friendly to strangers. They are commonly used as therapy dogs for children with ASD.
- Bernese Mountain Dog – Sensitive and affectionate. These teddy bear-like dogs are sweet and nurturing to their owners.
- Beagle – Loving and playful. This breed is perfect for high-energy children with autism who need a fun-loving friend.
- Poodle – Extremely intelligent and naturally obedient. Their inclination towards obedience makes them easy to train and low maintenance.
- German Shepherd – Smart, protective, and loyal. These dogs are often chosen for law enforcement and military, so you will rest easy knowing your dog is in wonderful hands.
While it may feel challenging to keep up with your child’s complex needs, a dog could be one of the best solutions available to you. Not only will a dog assist your child in managing their autism, but it will become a beloved and irreplaceable member of the family before you know it.
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