Anthony Kuznia, an 11 year old autistic went missing last Wednesday in East Grand Forks Michigan. Just over a day later, his body was retrieved about a half a mile from his home. Although there were no obvious signs of trauma, an autopsy will be preformed. Anthony had a history of wandering off as is often typical with children with autism.
A child on the autism spectrum may behave in ways that can cause worry in parents and lead the child into dangerous situations. All children at times do things, such as cross a street without looking, that could harm them. But when a child has autism, which can result in limited understanding and awareness of their environment, the likelihood of fatal accidents increases. Parents of an autistic child know this and spend a lot of resources and energy to prevent accidents and to maintain vigilance of their autistic child. Now there are service dogs that are trained and available to lighten the load of protecting and watching out for autistic children.
Service dogs are trained to respond to specific situations that autistic children have a tendency to get themselves into. One of these dangerous tendencies is wandering. When a child already has difficulty connecting to their environment, it becomes especially worrisome when that child wanders or runs off from a safe place. This can happen even if parents and caregivers have locked escape routes, which they usually do. Lost autistic children become vulnerable to strangers, traffic, and any other number of potential hazards. To add to the concern is the fact that because of autism, some children do not respond if a parent or caregiver calls their name. Service dogs trained by 4 Paws for Ability and Dogs for Autism can track a lost child, even if a lot of time has passed.
It is also common for autistic children to engage in repetitive behavior. An example of this behavior is the flapping of hands in front of the face, usually from feelings of anxiety, discomfort, or distress. These particular behaviors are then used as signs that service dogs are trained to respond to. In the example mentioned, the service dog will see a child start flapping their hands and place their nose or foot on the child. This response is similar to how a parent would respond to cease or calm the behavior.
And service dogs are mobile. They can go where the child goes – to the grocery store, to school, or the park. This aspect is especially wonderful for the autistic child who can really benefit from the stability, help and companionship of a dog that is there with him or her throughout the day. School can be hard places for autistic children, emotionally and socially. Parents can experience greater peace of mind when out in public with their autistic child because the service dog is there, not only as an outlet for the child’s emotional needs, but to protect and attend to situations particular to autism.