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Disability Empowerment

How Service Dogs Give People With Autism Hope for the Future

Photos: Courtesy of Zachary Gittlen

Mariah Vaiz

Marketing Coordinator and Content Creator, Guide Dogs of America

Service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” At the beginning of 2020, Guide Dogs of America merged with Tender Loving Canines in the hopes of taking its local service dog programs nationwide. 

The demand for our service dogs for autism far outweighs the supply. When selecting who receives our dogs, we base the decision on who has the greatest need and who will best utilize the service dog’s skills. Since autism is a spectrum, the needs of each individual are unique. Each of our service dogs for autism needs to have a broad skill set of tools to assist their partner. 

Many services

Our service dogs for people with autism can assist with daily living skills, such as dressing and undressing for motor skill support. For those with mobility limitations, our dogs can help retrieve, deliver, and carry items. They can also act as a brace for balance assistance, and tug or push things open and closed.  

Pressure therapy is an essential component of service dog work for people with autism. For children with repetitive or maladaptive behaviors, like flapping their hands, our dogs can provide a nose nudge to intervene. When a person is experiencing high anxiety, our dogs will lean into or “squish” the individual with deep pressure to provide grounding. This sensory input decreases physiological symptoms and can help the person refocus.

Service dogs for autism can sometimes wear a custom neoprene handle attached to their vest. The handle provides sensory feedback and encourages a child to stay close to the dog and third-party handler. 

Guide Dogs of America’s mission is to transform lives through partnerships with service dogs. A recent graduate says it all: “With no small thanks to our service dog Mully, our son is now a young man with a variety of interests. He has a desire for social interactions with others and an ever-increasing sense of confidence, independence, and, above all, aspirations for the future.”

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