Dogs have always been said to be man’s best friend! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that owning a pet can decrease your cholesterol, blood pressure, triglyceride, and feelings of loneliness while increasing your opportunities for socialization and exercise (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014).
Recent research has found that dogs, along with other pets, can increase the social behaviors of children with autism as well (O’Haire, et al., 2013; Grandgeorge, et al. 2012).
One study found that having a pet from a young age (mainly dogs or cats) improved social skills such as offering comfort and offering to share (Grandgeorge et al., 2012).
Even interactions with guinea pigs have been found to temporarily increase social behaviors such as smiling, laughing, talking and looking at others in children with autism (O’Haire et al., 2013). Given all the benefits it is no wonder the majority of households contain a pet!
Service dogs are one of the most popular types of service animals for children with autism. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is any animal that has been trained to assist an individual with disabilities.
Service dogs are not the same as therapy dogs, as therapy dogs do not have the same training and do not have the same accessibility benefits as service dogs (Research Autism, 2016). According to organizations such as the Autism Service Dogs of America (ASDA; 2010) and Assistance Dogs for Autism (2013), service dogs are trained to prevent a child with autism from bolting, redirect repetitive behaviors, assist with transitions between activities and locations and to find a child who may have successfully bolted.
While preliminary research indicates some benefits of animal-assisted interventions to children with ASD, these studies often had many methodological weaknesses including the use of anecdotal observation and researcher-developed questionnaires (Research Autism, 2016; Davis, et al., 2015; O’Haire 2013; Zane, 2010).
As a result, additional high-quality research is needed to further investigate the variety of animal-assisted interventions and services currently available. Please be sure to take into consideration your child’s individual needs and abilities when considering getting a therapy animal as a range of factors will affect the outcome of any intervention.
If you are interested in obtaining more information regarding service dogs please see a list of local and national resources below:
Service Dog Organizations:
Local Service Dogs:
Does your child have a therapy pet? Tell us about your experience.