Service Dogs for Children with Autism or other Developmental Disabilities

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Service Dog Program for Children Ages 8 to 10

For children with autism or other developmental disabilities, a NEADS Service Dog 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 can help address a child's 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 Service Dogs for Children with Autism are selected 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 Zoom interview.

The process to receive a NEADS Service Dog involves multiple steps. Start the process by taking our Prequalifying Questionnaire to find out if a Service Dog is right for your child.

How can a Service Dog help a child with autism or other developmental disabilities?


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:

  • Visit: The Service Dog will rest its head on the child's lap. This can calm or interrupt an unwanted behavior.
  • Nudge: The Service Dog can flip on a light switch, mitigating the child's fear of the dear.
  • My Lap: 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.
  • Speak: The child can use this task to communicate with a parent. Because the Service Dog will only bark on command, the parent knows that when the dog barks, the child needs assistance.

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.

The NEADS Service Dog...

  • Is a highly trained Service Dog, placed between the ages of 18-24 months after extensive training
  • Is not hypo-allergenic. NEADS Dogs are Labrador Retrievers who weigh between 50 and 75 pounds.
  • Is trained to respond to oral commands only
  • Does not go to school with your child since the parent is the trained facilitator.
  • Is not expected to be tethered to your child.
  • Is not expected to alert to or to stop unsafe situations, such as your child leaving the house or darting into traffic.

Your child...

  • Has a diagnosis of autism or other developmental disabilities.
  • Does not have a major psychiatric diagnosis (including PTSD) or history of trauma.
  • Is not a frequent eloper.
  • Does not put him/herself in unsafe situations, such as leaving the house or darting into traffic.
  • Is between the ages of 8 to 10 at the time of application.
  • Can demonstrate through the use of touch, voice, or play an ability to build a relationship with the dog.
  • Can participate, with support, in public outings.

As the trained parent handler...

  • You can commit to making time in the child’s and your life to devote to this partnership, regardless of other family or work obligations. The bond between Service Dog and child needs to develop based on the child’s interaction with the dog, but the dog may always look to the parent for assurance. Helping your child and the NEADS dog create and maintain this bond is critical to the success of the team.
  • You recognize that your child and the Service Dog will never be alone in public and that you are always present as a facilitator. This includes the dog will not go to school with the child.
  • You understand that the dog can only be alone for 4 hours each day. NEADS Dogs are trained in 24/7 environment w/loving care around the clock. We have learned that if a dog goes into the home in which people aren’t present, the dog can become distressed and unable to do the work it was trained for.
  • You understand that NEADS trains with a 2-leash system, in which each of you are holding a separate leash. This means that the parent and child are always together when in public with the dog.
  • You are not looking for a dog that is tethered to your child or will alert you when the child elopes.
  • You anticipate that you can safely manage your child’s behavior in a public setting while safely handling a dog. Remember, even a highly trained Service Dog is looking to you (the adult) for direction and commands.

Your family...

  • Understands that the Service Dog is a tool that can be used to help your child with autism or other developmental disabilities and is not a family pet. The Service Dog’s primary relationship will always be with the child, with your continuing guidance and support.
  • Does not have any members with allergies that may be triggered by the presence of a non-hypoallergenic dog.
  • Is prepared to maintain the training of a Service Dog and can commit to the long-term expense of caring for a dog for its working and retirement life, which can be up to 12 to 14 years.
  • Has the ability to make the time to integrate a Service Dog into your daily lives, taking into account the demands of family life and work obligations.