A therapy dog can be a safety companion.
Autistic children exhibit a wide variety of behaviors that can physically endanger them. Many don’t show an appropriate sense of personal safety and will walk out into traffic. Others will dart away from their parents, either fleeing a sensory overload of sights and smells and sounds that are invisible to those around them or utterly absorbed in some far-off detail that may not be immediately apparent. Some autistic children have even been known to quietly slip out of bed and out of the house at night, which makes nights anxiety-ridden for their parents.
Therapy dogs will gently guide an autistic child back to safety or alert parents if the child gets out of bed at night. Since therapy dogs are often tethered to the autistic child, they can prevent their child from walking off a curb into traffic or suddenly running away. If your child and therapy dog are separated from you, the dog can help guide your child back to the family car or home.
Therapy dogs also show the significant ability to prevent an autistic child from self-harm. When an autistic child is prone to self-harming behaviors or self-stimulation at the start of a meltdown, the therapy dog can interrupt the behavior as it starts by placing a paw in his or her child’s lap or bodily pressing into the child. The distraction and soothing pressure can often halt the self-stimulation or self-harm and provide the child with a sense of grounding and comfort.
Essentially, the therapy dog is perfectly happy to be the “something else” that your child can focus on when he or she is overwhelmed and needs help stabilizing.
A therapy dog can be a social companion.
A therapy dog doesn’t judge and doesn’t care if your autistic child has difficulty making eye contact, repeats certain rituals, or has problems verbalizing. The dog doesn’t care if the child’s fine motor skills are impaired or if he or she laughs or cries for no apparent reason. Therapy dogs are perfectly content providing non-stop companionship for your child, no matter how limited his or her ability is to socialize with other people.
Perhaps even more significantly, studies indicate that autistic children become less aggressive and more socially engaged when therapy dogs are present. While the exact reasons aren’t known, the prevailing theory is that therapy dogs reduce stress (and therefore aggression) by being present as the child goes through changing environments on the way to doctor’s visits, out shopping, in school, or in other public places.
Researchers think that therapy dogs motivate autistic children to become more verbal by responding to commands and simultaneously serve as a catalyst for social interactions with both adults and other children. Therapy dogs naturally invite people to ask questions. After a while, your child may begin to anticipate and answer the questions. The dog becomes your child’s key to opening social doors.
While it is believed to be expensive to have a service or therapy dog for your child, there are ways you can take to make it more affordable. Searching online for codes and vouchers to pet supply retailers is one way to help you save money. An example could be petsmart.com coupons for free shipping on orders or discounts on dog food or grooming.
Is getting a therapy dog for your autistic child a good idea? Absolutely. The link between a therapy dog and your child can become a magical bond that will ultimately make your child more physically and emotionally secure.