For six weeks Christian Tiesmeyer worked as an intern for the website. Among other things, he has earned a reputation for our bibliography, and created English and German abstracts of articles. The following post is from him. You can find interesting videos around the theme of assistance dogs and autism here.
How Dogs Support Families with Children who have Autism
Assistance dogs for people with autism was first established a few ago. Autism is the umbrella term for a variety of developmental disorders, and can manifest itself in many different ways. This includes difficulties in social situations, communication problems, perceptual difficulties, anxiety and other limitations, which have an effect on the quality of life of those affected.
Also the families of those affected are faced with great challenges. The illness must be put before everyday life, which costs a lot of time and strength. A complete cure is not possible. Individual treatment methods can help to control the illness and partially enable an independent life. Most of those affected, however, need a full time support and help for their whole lives.
Parents Appreciate Assistance Dogs
Children who suffer from autism and own an assistance dog are better protected from surrounding dangers than an autistic child without one; this is the verdict from the parent’s of those affected. In a scientific study, it was examined how parents of children with autism assessed the capability of an assistance dog.
Parents, whose children had an assistance dog, observed that their child was clearly safer from surrounding dangers. They felt much more competent when having to deal with their child if they had the support from an assistance dog. Additionally, the general public reacted with much more respect and understanding with regards to the illness of their child. In addition to this great impact, the burden of limitations to the family was hugely relieved. Assistance dogs ease the life of not only the child with autism, but the entire family.
How Assistance Dogs Specifically Help
Dogs are trained especially for the company of autistic patients, and with their skills can ease the life of both those affected by autism and their relatives in many ways. They relieve stress by those affected and can provide a better participation in social life, by taking away the anxieties of everyday tasks; even going through the front door can cause nerves. Assistance dogs help sufferers of autism become accustomed to their environment and move around freely in different places, without stress. This has an effect on many different areas of their life. Those affected can now move around more, go outside more frequently, build up more social contacts, show better performance in school and sleep more peacefully. Quality of life improves, which pleases their relatives. The frequently occurring social isolation from autistic children can also have an effect on the well being of the parents, who would like to encourage their child to have a better life, but do not know how they can support them. Dogs often help to improve the social behaviour of autistic children.
Assistance Dogs Provide Security
When ensuring the safety of a child with autism, the skills of the animal is especially important. During the processing of environmental and sensory stimuli, a sensory overload can occur, which makes them overwhelmed and become frantic. In public places or in road traffic this can be particularly dangerous. Assistance dogs have a calming effect on the person affected and like an anchor, they can prevent them from frantically running away by shifting their weight so the child suddenly feels a tug at the lead. Before a road crossing, dogs remain standing to alert their owner about potential dangers that they may not recognize due to their perception disorder. So families do not have to accompany their children at every turn or worry about them on their way to school.
At home, the dogs can block the child with autism from leaving without being noticed. If the child leaves without being noticed by the parents, the dog can give a signal that allows them to react quickly. This is especially important at night when all the family members are asleep and cannot take care of their child.
The parents in the study were mindful about having to care for the assistance dogs, who naturally also need attention and have needs. When looking at the benefits that a guide dog can provide for a family, however, this effort is seen as a lesser evil. A well trained assistance dog helps manage everyday life of a family who are affected by autism and can improve their quality of life and well being. An assistance dog provides an effective support and a huge relief especially for the patient, but also the rest of the family.