Autism and ADHD are not always easy conditions for your kid to deal with, and they can impact the entire family. There are good days and bad days, but the worst days can leave you, the parent, feeling frazzled and hopeless. However, there has been a lot of evidence to show that dogs can positively impact those with autism and ADHD, so getting a service dog could be an excellent step forward when helping your child to spend each day less anxious and feeling more confident.
What is a Service Dog?
A service dog is trained by a specific charity or organization to perform tasks that will help people with mental or physical illnesses so that they can live a more independent life. In addition to their ability to help them in this regard, they are also able to act as emotional support and general companion, providing their owners with a friend that they can rely on and talk to when they need it.
Generally speaking, it takes around a year for dogs to be trained, and then they are sent to their new homes. Service dogs are also allowed to go everywhere with their owner, including places like the supermarket and shopping malls. They have more access than other forms of support dogs, and you are required to obtain a medical referral and specific documentation before you can be put on the waiting list for one. The best place to start is with your doctor, who can start the process for you.
How Do They Help Autism?
One of the best ways a service dog can help a child with autism is preventing self-harming behavior by gently interrupting it when it occurs. An example of this is head banging or children hitting themselves repeatedly. Often, a service dog will place a paw on the child’s arm or nuzzle to distract the behavior and make the dog the central focus—helping the child become calm.
They can also help to deescalate an emotional meltdown by sensing increased levels of anxiety or agitation. Usually, the dogs will respond with a calming action, like leaning gently against the child or lying across the child’s lap. They also provide unconditional love and will never judge your child for their behavior or scold them, accepting them for who they are at all times.
A service dog for autism is a constant companion that provides friendship and love on top of preventative measures. They can be quite expensive, as you will need to invest in dog training (there are lots of online resources which will help), but there are many ways to raise the money, and charities will often help. However, they are well worth it for their extensive training and the assistance they will bring to the family.
How Do They Help ADHD?
Much like autism, ADHD works on a bit of a spectrum, with there being several different levels and severities. Regardless of the kind of ADHD your child has, a service dog can be beneficial to them, and this section will take you through the main reasons for this.
Some who suffer from ADHD need to maintain something called Optimum Arousal, which means that they cannot focus if there is not enough going on. Having a service dog around, or just touching one, can make a person living with ADHD realize that they are zoning out and bring that person back into focus, and it can also help to provide boosted stimulation to allow your child to concentrate again.
Some with ADHD also have sensory processing or tactile issues. This can make it hard to focus when having a conversation as there are so many other sensory items being thrown at the child, but having a dog to stroke while you talk can help to refocus the mind—so the only things being thought about are the conversation and the way the dog’s fur feels.
In addition to this, regular exercise and routine are two of the other things that come with a dog of any kind—and children (as well as adults) with ADHD need this in their lives. Dogs love routine, and they will make sure you fall into one, which results in your day becoming much more structured. Exercise also reduces ADHD symptoms and leaves the dog feeling happy.
For further information on service dogs, as well as the ways in which dogs can help mental health, please check out this detailed guide. Service dogs are able to do a world of good, and they can be a pillar of support for your child—especially during those really tough days when nothing seems to be going right for them. In many ways, it helps take the pressure off the kids and you, ensuring that everyone is able to lead a calmer, better life.