**PLEASE NOTE: We are not accepting applications for Autism Service Dogs at this time, as our current waiting list exceeds two years.** (modified 9/5/12)
Unlocking a Child's World...
Autism is an invisible disability and until a cure is found, positive interventions are needed to help these children and their families. Autism service dogs are playing a bigger role and Service Dogs of Virginia is proud to train these exceptional dogs for exceptional children.
We partner with the educators, parents and therapists involved in each child’s educational program to utilize our dogs as a motivational tool to affect change. The goals for some of these children may seem small, but they are in fact major stepping stones toward greater growth and autonomy.
Many autistic children bolt into traffic, wander off in a crowded mall, disappear at a sporting event — it happens in seconds and is a frightening part of daily life for families with an autistic child. The autism service dog aids parents in keeping their child safe through a system where the dog and child are tethered together under the control of a parent.
Improve fine and gross motor skills
Some children with autism have gross or fine motor skill challenges. Brushing and petting the dog appropriately may be big goals for some children. This kind of work will foster the bond between dog and child, help with motor skills, and help a child stay on task for increasing amounts of time.
Increase child-initiated social play and leisure activity skills
Children with autism typically do not initiate social play, play well with others or make appropriate use of playtime. We teach the dog a careful retrieve so that we can have the child throw a ball, which the dog then brings back. Interactive social play with a dog helps children learn to play appropriately with other people using give and take and taking turns.
Many children with autism cannot communicate effectively and some cannot speak at all. Children are motivated to cue the dog to sit or down, shake or roll over, because the dog responds quickly. For verbal children, when approached by people in public (when out with a dog, everyone wants to pet the dog), they are taught to respond with their dog’s name, age, weight, etc. and thus learn how to have a functional dialogue. With regular practice, children develop greater comfort talking to others which helps to lay a foundation for communicating.
Improve response to challenging situations
Children with autism may scream, run and act out in inappropriate ways to stress and change. Trying to replace an inappropriate social behavior with an appropriate one is both a social and functional goal for children with autism.
A child must be at least 4 years old to be considered for an autism service dog.
"Jack was diagnosed at age 5 with Aspergers Syndrome. This was not a surprise because the signs were there since birth. The surprise came when we had no idea how to help a child with Aspergers. We did the normal services like physical therapy and occupational therapy. As Jack got older, we found fewer and fewer methods of therapy to help his self-absorbed behaviors. He was not connecting to peers, he was not responding to his name when called at school, he was unable to complete daily tasks, he was unable to advocate for himself; therefore he was unable to become independent in the near future. This was a very scary thought and made us search for answers. While watching a news story about a young boy with autism overcome so much with a service dog, we immediately searched the Internet for local organizations and came across Service Dogs of Virginia!
We worked closely with SDV to find the right dog for Jack. Nelson, his service dog, came into our home in 2010 and made immediate changes in our son’s life. Jack was able to stay connected to people. His anxiety is completely gone with Nelson by his side, he is doing extremely well in school, and has made many new friends because of Nelson.
We were so amazed by the impact Nelson had on his life, and for the first time, we see Jack as a thriving, happy, relaxed, independent young boy with a dog’s help."
–Ella Lyons, mother of Jack who has Nelson, an autism service dog