Animal-assisted therapy for children with autism is a popular topic at the moment. When combined with an evidence-based approach, it can be very useful in helping children on the autism spectrum develop communication, self-help and social skills.
Families wonder how animal-assisted therapy can help their children on the autism spectrum. One of the most commonly used animals for animal-assisted therapy for children with autism are dogs.
Dogs are known as the most loyal of animals. They follow their owners around. This can be very useful in the case of a child with autism who may have a tendency to leave the house and wander. In the past, autism trained dogs have brought children safely home who had wandered and been declared « missing ». As faithful companions, dogs can also help children with autism learn to trust. Parents can help their children learn to take care of the four-legged friend which creates a sense of responsibility and stability for the child with autism.
There are many programs that exist to train dogs in order to place them in families where there is a child with autism. The North Star Foundation is a program that trains and places golden retrievers in homes where families have a child with autism. It takes approximately 2 years to train one of these therapy dogs. The dog and child are paired early on and a professional works with the family and dog over time to ensure that they are a good match and that both the family and dog know how to interact with one another. You can read their story and learn more about golden retrievers for autism in the book “The Golden Bridge“ by Patty Dobbs Gross.
Some families have had very positive experiences with their therapy dogs. « Tom, my son’s therapy dog, is a member of our family » shares one parent of a child on the autism spectrum who spoke with the Autism Daily Newscast and wishes to remain anonymous.
« He is always with my son. He is very tolerant. My son lies on top of him and sits on him. He helps my son calm down when he has a melt-down. He even stays next to the pool when my son is swimming and it seems that he is keeping an eye on him. Tom is there every moment of every day for my son and provides a sense of complete love and stability for him. »
You can read more about how dogs help children with autism bond in one of our earlier reports here.