Can Someone with Autism have a Service Dog?

Can Someone Have a Service Dog for Autism?

Individuals with autism are wired differently. They have real neurological differences that impact their behavior. Autism symptoms can include communication difficulties, repetitive behaviors, impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, rigidity in adapting to a new environment, social skill challenges, and difficulty with decision-making. Developmental and psychiatric health conditions can also accompany these behaviors.

Although autism is typically marked by challenging behaviors, individuals with autism equally have a lot of remarkable traits. They are often very forgiving, straightforward, independent, deep thinkers. They love routines, are very passionate about what interests them, and aren’t pressured to fit into typical social norms. If you have a loved one with autism, you know how au-some sharing life together can be.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects 1 in 44 children in the United States. There are many types of Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The parenting stress load of caring for neurologically different children can be heavy. Parents of neurodivergent children report up to 4 times higher stress levels in their daily lives.

The good news for parents and caretakers is that an Autism Service Dog is a therapeutic intervention that is helpful for some people with autism. Autism Assistance dogs act as constant companions, and their presence alone can be very calming. They help reduce anxiety, build confidence and improve communication.

A popular quote among the autistic community says, “If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism.” Stephen M. Shore. Autism is a spectrum disorder, and how it impacts each person is unique, including how the person needs assistance. Service Dogs are well-suited for someone with Autism because Assistance Dogs can be custom-trained to enhance a person’s quality of life and independence. 

Can Someone with Autism have a Service Dog?

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Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.

Service Dog For Autism - Research

Language around autism interventions often refers to children. That isn’t to say adults with autism can benefit from continued therapy or treatment. Early interventions tend to have the best success. Studies show that kids who begin autism or behavior therapies by the age of 2 or 3 can significantly reduce symptoms. Early diagnosis and interventions positively affect symptoms and life skills into adulthood.

Service Dogs help autistic children by interrupting behaviors, calming emotional outbursts, improving social interactions, facilitating interaction with those around them, expanding communication (both verbal and nonverbal), and teaching life skills.

Autism Service Dogs can have a life-changing impact. Consider a few of these facts or statistics on autism from the organization Autism Speaks to understand how a Service Dog truly helps a person with autism cope.

  • Nearly 28 percent of 8-year-olds with ASD have self-injurious behaviors. Head-banging, arm biting, and skin scratching are among the most common.
  • Nearly half of those with autism wander or bolt from safety.
  • As many as one-third of people with autism have epilepsy (seizure disorder).

For children with Autism, Service Dogs often become a critical part of their family’s life. One major plus is that having an Assistance Dog for their child decreases stress for parents. Parents report feeling less anxious around bedtime, knowing that their child has a companion watching out for them. And going out in public becomes more enjoyable for their family because they can safely take their child with autism in public.

Can Someone with Autism have a Service Dog?

Autism Service Dog Teams

Autism Service Dog Teams operate a little differently than other Service Dog Teams. With most Service Dogs, the dog’s handler is the person with the disability. They are referred to as a Service Dog Team. In the case of an Autism Service Dog, the dog is part of a team of three where a parent or other trained adult acts as the handler directing the dog on what tasks to provide the child. An individual with autism will serve as the dog’s handler if they can pass a public access test, meaning they can control the dog appropriately in public.

What Autism Service Dogs Do

These task-trained skills differentiate a Service Dog, allowing them public access.

Reduce anxiety:

Dogs can help calm a person and reduce anxiety simply by being present. The simple act of petting a dog is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, and release serotonin (the happy hormone).

Improve social skills:

A dog’s extra attention when going into public creates a great buffer and helps ease the child into new social situations. Kids are especially drawn to dogs, which provides the child a common interest to talk about with new people.

Improve communication:

Pets help a child build connections, all while using non-verbal communication. Caring for a dog or asking them to perform a task can be an incentive to communicate for a child struggling with verbal skills.

Can Someone with Autism have a Service Dog?
Can Someone with Autism have a Service Dog?
PC: American Kennel Club

Calm tantrums and prevent meltdowns:

Meltdowns are a common symptom of an overstimulated child. Dogs can sense these emotions before a full-on tantrum is triggered. Support Animals help with de-escalation and make children feel safe and comforted. If the child has challenges with transitions when environments change, the Service Dog can provide a source of comfort and consistency to help make those transitions easier.

Prevent bolting:

Children with autism may display impulsive behavior and “bolt” from safety. Many families report that having a child with bolting tendencies changes their lifestyle drastically. They cannot safely take their child with autism in public for fear the child will break away and become lost or find themselves in harm’s way. The dog can be tethered to the child to prevent them from wandering, bringing parents peace of mind and the ability to enjoy public outings again.

Seizure Alerts:

With many people with autism having epilepsy (seizure disorder), Service Dogs can be trained to assist with seizure alerts. This means that they alert of an oncoming seizure or respond to a seizure by getting help or providing stimulation.

Deep Pressure Therapy:

Sensory needs are common for children with autism. An Autism Assistance Dog can be trained to redirect the child’s attention by placing their paw on the child’s leg, providing sensory input from deep pressure or kisses, or calming the child by snuggling or laying their head in the child’s lap. Assistance Dogs may accompany a child to medical appointments to perform DPT enabling their child to sit still for a procedure such as having their teeth cleaned at the dentist or labs run at the doctor’s office.

Better Sleep:

This applies to both the parents and the child with autism. Service Dogs can be task-trained to provide comfort to help the child fall asleep. If the child wakes up at night, they can snuggle them back to sleep. A Service Animal can help a child to navigate the house safely at night or Alert the parents if there is a need, which provides peace of mind for parents, enabling them to sleep better at night.

Can Someone with Autism have a Service Dog?
PC: Paws with a Cause

Additional Benefits

Provide a sense of security for the child. This isn’t a trained task. However, Autism Assistance Dogs act as an anchor for their kids. They are a grounding presence in their lives, helping them avoid triggering behaviors and live with more independence.

Reduced anxiety for parents. Autism Service Dogs are such a relief to parents who are constantly on high alert – monitoring the whereabouts and safety of their child. It’s a mental load they become so familiar with that they often aren’t conscious of it until the load is lifted off of them as their Service Animal supports them. Families feel increasingly safer venturing into public, knowing that their Service Dog will keep their child safe from wandering or getting lost.

Stabilizing long-term support for older students. Autism therapies are not as available to individuals once they age out of school. An older teenager can benefit tremendously from having a Service Dog help them transition past high school, encouraging independence and daily living skills.

Gain the confidence of having a best friend. On the benefits of an Autism Service Dog, 4 Paws for Ability shares that “having a service dog that is bonded closely to their child is an opportunity for the child to have a best friend who loves and accepts them unconditionally.”

Can Someone with Autism have a Service Dog?

What's the Verdict?

It’s no secret that dogs offer unconditional love and endless amounts of hugs and kisses. That may be the secret to why they are so good with children with autism.

At this point, if you still aren’t sure a Service Dog is right for your child, I’d urge you to consider an Emotional Support Animal for your child. While an Emotional Support Animal does not have public access, its simple presence provides comfort. Just minutes in the presence of a pet is proven to reduce anxiety, which is often the cause of many challenging behaviors associated with autism. Read this for a comprehensive breakdown of how your child can benefit from an Emotional Support Animal.

ESA or PSA Certification?

The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!


More Great Resources

Attention: Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible. Click here to see if you qualify.