For Children on the Autism Spectrum
Social dogs serve as assistants and companions to children with autism or another disability who are ages 6 and up. Kids have a hard time fitting in and making friends, and social interaction for children with autism can be even more difficult. For many of these kids, a social dog can make all the difference. Dogs won't judge a child; they don’t care how popular a child is or how he or she forms sentences. The constant companionship and friendship of such a loving creature can help a child with autism build confidence.
Social dogs accompany their partner to doctor's appointments, restaurants, sporting events, and other public places. Many children who have a hard time coping with change find that having a constant companion can help them deal with transitions from place to place and can add a bit of consistency to each day. In this respect, the dog serves as a focal point for the child. Parents are also able to help their children learn to read body language and learn empathy for others by using the dog as a model. Because our dogs are confident and happy to be in new situations, they are great examples for children.
Social dogs can also be effective social ice breakers. Often kids with autism have trouble relating to or opening up to others, but when a well-trained assistance dog is present, people ask predictable questions that have answers a child can memorize. People may ask things like: "What is your dog's name?" "What is the dog’s breed?" "How old is your dog?" These questions are asked frequently and with repetition, so the child can gain confidence in social situations.
Parents can also utilize the social dog at home. Assigning daily chores such as feeding, brushing and cleaning up after the dog can teach a child responsibility and routine. The chance to play ball with the dog or practice some commands can be a great motivator. Lower-functioning children can also learn how to string together certain motor skills during daily routines. For example, the act of dressing the dog in his or her cape and leash requires a series of finite motions. Routines like this can help children practice intricate physical motions that, when linked together, perform a useful task.
Social dogs are facilitated dogs. This means that a parent or guardian (also known as a facilitator) must accompany the child and dog team at all times. For this reason, social dogs do not attend school with the children. The level of involvement of the parent or guardian depends largely on the age and ability of the child receiving the dog. Ultimately, the facilitator is responsible for the well-being of the dog and the success of the team.
NEADS selects social dogs for their special chemistry with children. All social dogs are gentle, tolerant and well trained, but they each have their own personality that can be matched with an appropriate child. Some children may benefit from a dog that seeks out attention and elicits play. Other children may require a quiet, somewhat reserved dog to make them feel more comfortable. The type of dog that best suits a child's needs is determined during the interview process.