The Surprising Ways Dogs Help Children with Special Needs

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Did you know that 43,346,000 households in the United States own a dog? Chances are if you don't have a dog, you know someone who does. Dogs are affectionate, loyal animals which makes them unique from any other animals. Dogs are so helpful that they are used to offer therapy to special needs children. Children with Autism or Asperger's have special needs that can be met in surprising ways through the simple act of bonding with a family pet. Dogs are the pet of choice when it comes to these special children. The unconditional acceptance sometimes can be unparalleled in these children's lives. Even though parents and family members love unconditionally there is something about a dog that can really touch the Autistic child in very surprising ways.

Types of Therapy Dogs Available to Special Needs Children 

There are different levels of help that dogs can offer depending on the needs of the child and the training that the dog receives. There are companion dogs, therapy dogs, and service dogs but what is the difference? You may be wondering what would be the best for your child. It sounds confusing at first but here is a breakdown.

  • Companion dogs are basically like a family pet that offers companionship and can help ease anxiety. Children with Autism often have difficulties making friends and are also many times made fun of by other children, especially in school settings. The companion dog offers an unconditionally loving buddy to come home to; a buddy that does not judge or tease. To these dogs, their “person” is perfect just the way they are! And often children with Autism can relate back to their dog better than they can relate to humans thus making the world a less lonely place.

  • Therapy dogs are the same as companion dogs in many ways but in addition, they can be trained specifically to meet certain child’s needs.

  • Service dogs are different in that they are used in such a way to help people with actual disabilities and can legally be brought into public spaces. They are often fitted with a cape or special harness designating them as service dogs so that others will treat them as such. Service dogs are on the job and shouldn’t be treated in such a way as to excite them or distract them from performing their duties.

Dogs Bring Comfort To Children 

Companion and therapy dogs can be very helpful with many aspects of Autism and Asperger’s symptoms. For example, some children with these conditions often are very uncomfortable with human touch but for some reason, these same kids often feel rather comfortable cozying up to their dog. A good example is a story on the 4 Paws for Ability website which tells of a family whose child could not fall asleep without one of the parents being present, but when they got their dog the child was comfortable sleeping in his or her own bed.

Dogs Protect Children 

Service dogs can be trained to help children that exhibit behavior that includes repetitive motions. Some children will stop the action at the touch of a caregiver’s hand for minutes or even hours sometime. These children can benefit from a dog that has been trained to react to repetitive motions or other behaviors that might bring harm to the child. The attention of the dog at these times can bring the child out of the repetitive behavior or calm them and keep them from self-harming.

Dogs Prevent Wandering 

Another behavior that can be frightening for parents is the chance that their child will wander off. Certain dogs can be trained to track a child that has gone off on their own. When time is very crucial the dog can lead the parent in the right direction immediately possibly saving the child from dangerous situations like wandering on a busy street. Also, children can be tethered to their service dog when out shopping or traveling to keep them from wandering off. Although this is recommended by some trainers is not recommended by the Autism Speaks organization. They point out that sometimes things can go amiss with even a well-trained dog and having the child tethered is therefore not recommended.

Whether it is a family pet or you find a good trainer to provide a therapy or service dog, you may want to consider adding a furry friend to your child’s life. There is seemingly no end to the possibilities of connection and peace that a dog can provide.