What do autism assistance dogs do?

I’m blind. I use a Seeing Eye dog to guide me safely to work each day. I literally couldn’t get around without her.

I know how valuable a service dog can be. In some cases, though, I don’t understand what specific things the service dog does to help with the disability.

A recent story in K9 magazine touts a British service dog organization trying to raise £1 million to train dogs to “help children with autism.”

Support Dogs has already trained the UK’s first Autism Assistance Dog with the support of Irish Guide Dogs, which has run a successful programme in Ireland for over three years. Lacey (a yellow Labrador) has been partnered with Paula Craik and her 5-year-old son Joe (who live in Dundee) and in the last year has made a tremendous difference to their lives.

The article doesn’t specify any single thing the service dog does for Paula and Joe that an average dog couldn’t do for them:

  • Improved behavior and socialization skills through acting as a constant companion and forming a unique bond.
  • Expands the child’s capabilities to experience more from life.
  • Calms the child thereby increasing attention span and improving aptitude for learning.
  • Reduces stress for all family members.

To me, the description sounds like what average dogs have been doing for years for families with autism. To qualify as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a dog must be partnered with a person with a disability and individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of that person.

This article leaves me wondering what special work or tasks these autism assistance dogs will provide. Maybe that would help explain why it will cost £1 million to start a program to train them.


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