Dogs Proven Therapeutic for Children with Autism

AnneMS Photography

As the 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show wraps up in New York City, it
has been difficult not to reminisce the many, many hours spent with our son
watching dog show reruns on Animal Planet over the years. His affinity for
animals (dogs in particular), has always been very strong and may have been
partially explained by a USA
Today article
published this week, discussing the benefits of dogs for children
with autism.

The article cited several studies proving the positive benefits of canines, including
the results of research conducted  in 2010 that concluded the following:

"The study measured the salivary levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in 42 children with autism at three different times: before and during the introduction of a service dog to their family, and after a short period during which the dog was removed from their
family …  The researchers concluded ‘that the introduction of service dogs translated into reducing cortisol levels
and the number of disruptive behavioral incidents in children with ASD.’"

These results come as no surprise. Animals have always been fascinating to
our child. Not soon after he was diagnosed with autism, we soon found ourselves
taking almost weekly visits to the local zoo, where he was captivated by the
many animals on display. It was during these times, when his condition seemed to
vanish for the several hours we were there. 

Over the years, his love for animals only grew stronger and eventually, he could
recognize and identify even the most obscure of animals. His library soon became
stocked with books on mammals, sea creatures, dinosaurs and of course, dogs. In
retrospect, it was during these years when the healing had begun.

Dogs are recommended for children with autism not just for companionship, but as
stated earlier, the potential therapeutic benefits as well. 

4 Paws for Ability is an Ohio-based organization that specializes in dog
placements for those with disabilities and focuses heavily on those with autism.
Their tagline is "providing canine miracles for people with disabilities
worldwide." The group has been responsible for placing over 500 dogs around
the world and offers canines for disorders ranging from seizures, deafness,
mobility issues and autism.  Families in need of a service dog can apply
directly online at their Web site:

If a child has been diagnosed with moderate-to-high function autism and a
service dog is not needed, a trip to the local animal shelter may go a long way
in providing immeasurable benefits. However, parents need to remember that dog
ownership is a big responsibility and should not be taken lightly. In addition,
a pet allergy test should be considered prior to a dog entering the home to
avoid heartbreak down the road.

As Temple
has proven, individuals with autism are often able to connect with
animals in very deep and meaningful ways. In particular, dogs can teach a child
unconditional love, responsibility, compassion and provide unparalleled
companionship that can potentially change the course of their lives.