It’s estimated that there are at least 93 million children with disabilities around the world, many of whom could significantly benefit from having a support dog. Support dogs can help children in a number of ways, such as assisting with the physical challenges of a disability and improving their confidence and social life. Support dogs quickly become much more than just a beloved pet to children with disabilities and their families, as they’re a key part in helping the child live more independently.The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is clear that the dog must be trained to do a task directly related to the handler’s disability and that companionship, emotional support, and comfort do not qualify as tasks. The ADA in its submission defined service animals 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.
Commonly the words “assistance” and “service” may be interchangeable but ADA not see them as such.
Autism assistance dogs
One of the main benefits of an autism support dog is that they provide a calming effect for children, particularly in public and unfamiliar situations. They usually work with what is known as a team leader, most often the child’s parent, and they are discreetly attached to the child. This helps to regulate walking speed, and the dog will be trained to respond to common behaviors that are unsafe, such as suddenly trying to run off. Autism assistance dogs also provide a calming effect at home, as they are trained to provide deep pressure through head or full body rest, and parents can also use them as a tool of distraction to interrupt repetitive behaviors. Many children with autism assistance dogs will consider them their best friend, helping them to feel like they belong and are accepted, which they can struggle with.
Help with walking for cerebral palsy
The symptoms of cerebral palsy, a neurological condition affecting movement and mobility, can be improved with assistance dogs, particularly when it comes to walking. A study from Usask’s School of Rehabilitation Science has found that service dogs can be more effective than walkers and canes in improving the mobility and gait of children with cerebral palsy. It’s believed to be because dog’s have a natural walking rhythm that children can follow, plus they can be trained to help children to navigate doors and uneven terrain, and they can brace if the child becomes unsteady, helping to reduce falls. CPFN note the value of an assistance dog in the family to help a child with cerebral palsy strive for independence.
Dogs that can alert others
Dogs are known for their sniffing powers, and have been trained to pick up on specific things and alert others. This can be used for a number of things, such as if a child is about to have a seizure: the dog can usually pick up on it a minute or so beforehand, and get the child into a safe position and alert their parents. They can also be aware of obstacles and dangers that children who have problems with focusing may miss, and help the child to avoid them by alerting them, such as of cars when crossing the road. This can buy people precious time that helps to keep children safe.
Any assistance dog will quickly become a child’s best friend who loves them unconditionally, is always there for them, and trusts them. This can be difficult for any child to find, and having a disability often makes it harder, which is why assistance dogs play such a special and important role in their care.