Human-Animal Connection: How Service Animals Help Kids With Autism

If you have read any of Temple Grandin’s books, she talks a lot about the connection between animals and people diagnosed with Autism. That for some reason there is this symmetry and understanding that goes beyond words. Some people feel it is a primal ability that most people have, but few really tap into it because we have some many other ways to connect.

Over the last couple of years, many different therapy options have evolved that involve the use of animals as a way to have a therapeutic impact. Therapies such as equine therapy, dolphin therapy, service dogs, feline friends, etc. This type of approach of connecting with those who may not otherwise be reached has been highlighted in nursing homes with Alzheimers patients. The impact of this connection is not limited to only one type of species and with only one type of person. The goal is to try it and observe the impact.

I once worked with a family who had a child who was extremely hyperactive and very smart. He would find ways to get out of the house and not disturb the alarm systems! When they would take him into the community, his parents felt that they had to attach themselves via a leash to their son to assure that he would remain with him. As you might imagine this was very distressing to the parents just trying to keep their child safe, but it was also not a natural way of supporting their child. By natural, I mean it was not what would be typically acceptable in a community setting, nor is it a least restrictive option. After a few months of work with the family, we were able to qualify them for a service dog. This golden retriever was specifically trained to remain with the child and keep him with his family. He was attached to him, but it really looked more like the son was taking him for a walk rather than a method of containment. Whenever the boy would try to run, the dog would redirect him. Whenever he became hyperactive, the dog would lean into him and calm him down. It was amazing!

Recent legislation was passed to allow for insurance companies to pay for such a service if it occurs in the state that the insurance is provided. This is a huge victory for families, because service dogs are expensive due to the enormous level of training that they must have to go through. Now money may not be the barrier to getting a terrific resource for kids.

To find out more about a families experience using service dogs, check out the video below.