It won’t surprise you that animals can help raise the spirit, warm the heart and clear the mind but would you be surprised to hear that animals are becoming popular in autism therapies? There is a special relationship between many people with autism and their animals, a relationship that we are studying to better understand the disorder. Occupational therapists are already introducing animals into their practices and autism service dogs have become prominent among the autism community. The connection between children with autism and animals is becoming more clear. Autism is a disorder affecting social communication and therefore social norms, nuances of conversation and nonverbal cues can be dizzying to those with the disorder. Animals can provide a reprieve from those things and so much more.
Our daughter Kate is four years old. She has autism and the ability to melt your heart with her smile and her love of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She struggles with language and is so often lost when we, as a family, rely too much on spoken language to communicate. Kate is extremely visual and sensory-seeking, like many with autism, and can be easily confused without much support. It was early on in her diagnosis that we found Kate was drawn to animals and those animals provided her with a sense of calm not often found in our tiny spitfire. Kate needs to be moving often and is always seeking pressure. Playing with animals is a great way to provide both of those things. We knew quickly that she would be an excellent candidate for an autism service dog.
An autism service dog will offer increased safety for Kate. She is a runner and does not react to danger appropriately. With a trained service animal to keep her close our worries will decrease tenfold. The dog will help with improving Kate’s socialization skills and draw positive attention from peers. Kate struggles to make friends and play appropriately because of her autism and animals can help make those social connections she struggles with. It is our hope that children will be drawn to her and her canine companion. These dogs can also help with the dreaded autism meltdown by suppressing the outbursts. That sensory-seeking behavior, I spoke about earlier, can be given with a proper cuddle from one of these great dogs.
Kate will take part in the service dog interview this month. Our family is confident she will be a perfect match for one of these amazing dogs. Stay tuned to find out how she makes out and if we are lucky enough to welcome one of the wonderful animals into our family.