Service Dogs for Children with Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities
NEADS Social Dog Program for Children Ages 8 to 16
For children with autism or other developmental disabilities, the NEADS Social Dog Program can make all the difference. NEADS Service Dogs are trained in a variety of tasks that can address a range of symptoms, behaviors, and issues caused by a child's autism. This task work includes socialization skills, behavioral skills, life skills, and fine and gross motor skills. (Note that the task work is not designed for a child who has a major psychiatric diagnosis (including PTSD) or history of trauma.)
NEADS selects Service Dogs for the Social Dog Program for their special chemistry with children. All NEADS Service Dogs are gentle, tolerant and well trained, but each has its 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.
Because of this highly personalized matching process, we require all applicants (child and a parent or family member) to come to our NEADS campus in Princeton, MA for an in-person evaluation and in-take interview. If you are more than 3 hours from the NEADS campus, we can begin the process with a Skype interview.
How is a Service Dog different from a family pet?
A Service Dog is not a family pet. The presence of a family pet provides comfort, while a Service Dog provides specific task work to address the symptoms of autism or other developmental disabilities.
Here are some key differences:
- Task training – Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a Service Dog must perform a task specific to a person’s disability. Tasks for a Service Dog for a child with autism or other developmental disabilities can include Visit, Lap, Nudge, and Speak.
- Public access – The team (parent/child/Service Dog) has public access according to the ADA. This means the team is allowed entry to public places, including restaurants, grocery stores, and other places a family may go.
- Consistency and reliability - Behavioral training and socialization provides assurance that the dog will behave consistently and reliably at home and in public.
- Teaching tool – The Service Dog provides a focus for the parent as they build specific skills in the child. A parent or guardian (also known as a facilitator) accompanies the child and dog at all times and is ultimately responsible for the well-being of the dog and the success of the team.
What Does "Task Trained" Mean?
One of the hallmarks of a well-trained Service Dog is that it consistently and reliably performs the tasks for which it’s been trained. For children with autism or other developmental disabilities, tasks can include:
The Service Dog will rest his head on the child’s lap. This can calm or interrupt an unwanted behavior.
The Service Dog can flip on a light switch, mitigating a child’s fear of the dark.
The Service Dog will put its front two paws onto the child’s legs. The My Lap command can be given while the child is seated in a chair, or the dog can come across sideways while they are on the floor, to give the sensation of pressure. The deep pressure can help with sensory integration.
The child can use this task to communicate with a parent. Because the Service Dog barks on command, the parent knows that when the dog barks, the child needs assistance.
How can a Service Dog help a child with autism or other developmental disabilities?
If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.
Dr. Stephen Shore
When is a NEADS Service Dog right...
... for you and your child with autism or other developmental disabilities
For families with children with autism or other developmental disabilities, the quote from Dr. Stephen Shore rings true: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Just as every child with autism is unique, so is every Service Dog program. To that end, NEADS asks that you consider the following before you proceed. If you decide to apply, there will be a series of pre-qualifying questions to help determine if a NEADS Service Dog may be right for you and your child.