Saturday, May 24, 2014

What is an Autism Service Dog

What is an autism service dog?

The Ada refers to a service animal as "Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

  Link :

  "Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls."

  Link :

    What Is An Autism Service Dog?

 Odds are if you are reading this you are already familiar with autism but for those who may not know, Autism is a complex neurodevelopment disorder that affect both verbal and non verbal communication, social skills and sensory processing.

  Autism service dogs (also call SSIG or sensory signal alert dogs) are dogs trained -Tasks- to help an Autistic individuals, these are general tasks that help with the sensory processing issues many of us
on the autism spectrum experience. Things such as hearing and guide work may be taught for individuals who have trouble processing or who are either over or under responsive in the ares of visual and auditory processing. Autism service dogs may also be trained to retrieve objects and such during overload that help the individual communicate or get through the overload. During overload autism service dogs may also help guide handler out of a building or to a quiet place where they can safely recover. Each autism service dog is going to be trained different tasks based on the needs of the handler.

Unfortunately many organizations don't train proper autism service dogs and out right refuse to train them for adults, there are a few that do though. Autism service dogs can help give an adult with autism independence and drastically improve the quality of life of autistic individuals.

Things that are not tasks/ do not qualify a dog as a service dog

  • Any natural -untrained- behavior
  • Guarding handler
  • crime deterrent
  • Increasing socialization,
  • Comforting
  • Natural calming presence
  • Tethering
  • Search and rescue (though a handy side think not really a legal task such as it is define)
  • Basic obedience such as sit stay come ect
  • Laying under a table
  • Emotional support
  • Increasing confidence.
  •  Watching the child or adult
  • Helping individual make friends
  • Natural untrained alerts

While there is no doubt some of these things listed above such as natural ale retrying and offering emotional support are helpful and can have a massive positive impact they are not legally considered work or tasks. There are others on this list like babysitting a child or tethering that are not work or tasks and should never be promoted as such.

Service dogs for children

This is an extremely complicated and emotionally charged area to talk about, the truth is this is a really grey area.a lot of parents first look into autism service dogs as a I way to get help with things they find challenging with thier children, bolting and wandering be the primary and some want them to help this kids make friends. As stated above this is not actually a task or work. Service dogs are not babysitters and shouldn't be trusted to watch over your child anymore then you trust a toddler or a wheelchair to babysit your child.  A service dog need to have tasks that help the child. Another issue is that of stewardship most autistic children simply are not able to steward a dog.   while it is clear and should be common sense a 2-4 year old can't steward thier own dogs it is also important to remember many older children still aren't able to do this, Most children with autism can't care for themselves much less steward thier own dogs.  something that is required by the Ada of any service dog handler, however there we some who will be great candidates for a service dog and will be able to steward their own dog and may really benefit from one. so an inability to steward ones own dog can't be blanketed to all children. So really this needs to be decided on a case to case basis,

if you are considering a Service dog for yourself or your child  here are some things you need to do and consider

you need to first you need to do is consider Why do you want a service dog? If you want it for emotional support then you might want to look instead into an emotional support animal see below. If you want it to make your job as a parent easier or to serve as a physical anchor to prevent your child from wandering or bolting off in public then a service dog really isn't right for you. Please reconsider and or think of other ways the dog might be trained to help your child!

next you need to determine if your child can steward their own dog, if not will you or a staff member be able to be with them at /all/ times that they are with the dog and the dog is working? when looking for yourself you must be able to steward your own dog or have reliable assistance in the stewardship oof the dog,

What sorts of things does your child need help with? What can the dog do to help your child?  *remember the dog has to help the child not you as the parent*  it is also important to remember  what things do not count as tasks as many organizations will try to sell you a 5-30,000 dollar SD based on these non tasks!

Service dogs are expensive and a /lot/ of work, do you have both the time and money for one of these dogs? While the benefit from a service dog can be amazing it is important to remember the cost isn't just what you have to pay or raise to get the dog it is also the dogs care over a life time, you will need to pay for vet bills both annual and for any emergencies,  food, toys ect. You will also need to maintain the training which will require regular daily training session and then find time for exercise and play for the service dog.  Are you able to provide all of this? Do you have the resources you need to provide this? Are you ready willing and able to make and to take on such a serous commitment?

Taking on a service animal is to take full responsibility for the health and care of this animal over a life time! Eventually the dog will get hurt or sick and eventually the dog will get old and will need to retire and sadly will eventually die! What do you plan to do if the dog gets sick, injured and can't work anymore? What about when it gets old and needs to be retired?  If your answer is to just drop the dog off at some shelter once it is old and used up a service dog is not right for you! These dogs need care well into their old age when you takes on a service dog you are promising to be there until that dogs last days as painful as they will be.

Getting a service dog isn't like getting a full time babysitter it's like getting a second child!

These are only a few things to consider before getting an autism service dog for your child,


I made this it's own category on purpose

Tethering is a dangerous practice used  by most "autism service dog organizations"  as a method of preventing wandering. While wandering is an issue I take very serously and something I struggle with as an adult with autism I can tell you right now this is a very dangerous and borderline unethical and borderline abusive  practice  there are risks to both dog and child!

Note the ADA requires the handler be in control of their service animal,however tethering puts the animal in control of the child, which is technically a violation of that ADA requirement

The Risks

To dog

Injure and strain on the jigs joints When a child suddenly decides to bolt

If the child is strong enough the dog could end up getting dragged by the child. Additionally a child who is strong enough could  knock the dog off balance or cause it to stumble should they bolt suddenly . while this is not a  likely occurrence with smaller children kids grow and become both bigger and stronger.

The dog that is tethered to a child can't escape and may be injured by a child who is melting down especially if they are prone to violent outbursts as they are a close target

 To the child

  • A fall or physical injury caused when the child tried to bolt and the dog does as it is train and stop and sits or lays down. The child who is bolting will rather suddenly be stopped and could become injured
  • Service dogs are still dogs, sometimes they make mistakes, should this happen while a child is tethered to the dog especially if the isn't a parent holding the dogs leash, known as tripod ding, the child can be knocked down and possibly dragged by the dog should they try to chase a squealer.
  • Last but not least and the most frightening the child could be attacked or get caught in the middle of a dog fight! Unfortunately service dogs have on many occasions been attacked by other dogs while working, usually by a dog who is off leash or if someone brings their dog up to try and greet your working dog! A child who is tethered to the dog when such a thing happens runs the risk of severe physical and psychological damage!! Are you will to risk having your child tied to a dog that is being attacked by another dog or animal?

Some organizations also promote tethering more then one child to a dog, this is out right abuse plain and simple and will increase risks to both kids and dogs

More info on tethering please read

Finding a proper program is very challenging as many organizations that claim to train autism service dogs are often placing tether or search and rescue dogs,  often these are what people call cookie cutter dogs and are sold often on the emotional benefits and don't tend to train tasks that help the child.

If your an adult looking into getting an autism service dog it is going to be even harder most  organizations refuse to train service dogs for autistic adults period!  There are a few good ones that do by they are very hard to find!

Alternatives to tethering
  As I have stated wandering is an issue that I take /very/ seriously! As an Autistic adult wandering is something I still struggle with regularly and I know several wonderful Autism parents who have lost amazing children to wandering. tragic deaths that should never have happened!  however tying a child to a dog is not a safe or good solution! here are some alternatives ( I will update this  as i find new ones)

  • have a soft handle attached to the dogs vest for the child to hold on to.
  • Have mason alert flyers ready for an emergency with current photo,  child or adults name, age, if they are verbal, nonverbal, semi verbal or may become non verbal, what they and the best way to approach and communicate with them, sensory aversions, what not to do and a list of local hazards and things the child is drawn to like water, Also make sure to have contacts list a written description and any identifying features.
  • ID on the child such as a medical alert bracelet
  • tracking device 
  • use a stroller if you are able
  • tether  the child to you and not the dog: if you are still concerned about bolting and you really need to tie you kid down so they cant run off tether them to you! you are the parent/caregiver and you can better understand and take being hit or kicked during a meltdown! you are also generally stronger than a dog.You are also much less likely to forget what your doing and try and chase a squirrel!

When looking for a program

Avoid any Program that promotes non tasks as tasks such as emotional support and natural reducing of meltdowns or says the dogs will be protective of you or the child
Ask about tasks, ask for examples of tasks they might train

RED FLAG!!!! READ THESE!!! (Be sure to read through and use this list when evaluating programs!!!)


Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are a great alternative to a service dog, the handler of an emotional support animal doesn't have public access rights that service dogs do, how ever they do have special housing rights. Emotional support animals do need to have some basic manners and may even be natural a letters but they generally aren't task trained like service dogs must be. Though they can't come around public with you ESAs  are can be highly beneficial alternative to a service dog as they do provide the child or adult with emotional support and their presence may naturally help calm calm the person, reduce meltdowns ect

Learn more:

(In loving memory of Nimrodel)

*note this article is prone to updates

1 comment:

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