A fairly new trend in Autism treatment is the use of service dogs. Traditionally, service dogs (commonly termed assistance dogs) were trained to mitigate a specific disability for mostly adult clients. More recently, organizations have begun forming for the purposes of providing service dogs for children with disabilities, including Autism. These organizations provide uniquely trained service dogs to children living with Autism and their families. The placement of a dog with the child enables the child and family to increase their mobility and socialization as a family, and the child individually.

In most cases, the dog accompanies the child at all times when the child leaves home. The dog goes to school with the child, and the presence of the dog calms the child, reduces emotional outbursts, and serves as a positive social link for the child to their home, school, and community. Many programs train Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden/Lab mixes, as they have been bred to respond quickly and accurately to the nonverbal cues of their owners, but other breeds serve just as well. Autism service dogs are usually placed as puppies and remain with the child for life. Families must be thoroughly screened and most organizations require families to complete an on-site training program. The following table provides a few examples of how service dogs are trained to respond:

Symptom/Service Dog Response
Impulsive Running/Will Retrieve Child To Parent
PICA/Will Interrupt Behavior
Self Stimulation/Will Physically Interrupt Behavior
Self Harming/Will Interrupt Behavior
Mood Swings/Will Crawl Onto Lap and Calm Child
Sleep Problems/Will Lie on Child for Deep Pressure Input
Night Awakenings/Will Alert Parents By Barking
Non-Verbal/Enhances Verbal Skills By Using Commands
Social Isolation/Focus Shifts To Dog
Dangerous Situation/Will Lead Child Out of Area to Safety

Dogs have always had a special relationship with people; that's where the term "man's best friend" came from. I believe that dogs, as a species, have dedicated their lives in service to humans for a higher spiritual purpose. They serve not only as faithful companions but also as spiritual guides, having an uncanny ability to know exactly what their human friends need. The heartwarming connection between dogs and people has been popularized recently in movies such as "Marley & Me" (2008), and books such as "Angel Dogs with a Mission: Divine Messengers in Service to All Life" (2008) "Angel Dogs: Divine Messengers of Love" (2005) by Allen & Linda Anderson.

In my work as an intuitive, I have successfully communicated with dogs and other animals through the use of mental pictures. Adults living with Autism, such as Temple Grandin ("Thinking in Pictures: and other Reports from My Life with Autism," 1996), have taught us that it is common for individuals with Autism to use their strong visual skills to compensate for their language deficits, i.e., to "think in pictures". William Stillman ("Autism and the God Connection," 2006 and "The Soul of Autism," 2008) has documented numerous instances of individuals with Autism who possess a strong, unspoken connection with animals, and who are able to telepathically communicate with their animal companions. So it makes perfect sense to pair up service dogs with Autistic children. Although some children have difficult initially adapting to having a canine companion, the heart connection is almost immediately noticeable, and the children are motivated to reach beyond their comfort zone to connect. Once this happens, the bond is virtually unbreakable.

For more information on Autism Service Dogs, including great testimonials and articles, go to the following websites:

ASDA Autism Service Dogs of America: http://AutismServiceDogsofAmerica.com
Compassionate Paws: http://www.compassionatepaws.org
4 Paws for Ability: http://www.4pawsforability.org
Northstar Foundation: http://www.northstardogs.com/autism.shtml
Psychiatric Service Dog Society: http://psychdog.org/lifestyle_ChildrenwithAutism.html
Wilderwood Service Dogs: http://autism.wilderwood.org


Author's Bio: 

Mary Riposo received her PhD in Child and Family Studies from Syracuse University. She is a NY State Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified School Psychologist. Mary is an Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, Polarity Therapist, Soul Realignment Practitioner, and Divinely Guided Life Coach. Her businesses include the Center for Integrated Energy Healing and Alternative Autism Solutions. She has written a book, "Using Reiki with Children: A Guide for Parents and Professionals," which is available through her website. For more information, go to AlternativeAutismSolutions.com.