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Speak! Service Animals Improving Autistic Children’s Lives

Autistic Service DogHi this is Terri Borman, child care provider and author of the children’s book “Shapes Go to School.”  This book teaches children shapes, colors, and diversity.  It also helps children to understand that everyone is hard wired differently.  This week’s blog is about those children that are hard wired with Autism and how service animals are helping to change their lives.

Autism more often than not affects the child’s communication and social skills.  The child will also more than likely have some sensory issues.  Children with Autism are often nonverbal, and if they are verbal, they may choose to not communicate with other people.  Some children with Autism will not respect another child’s personal space or follow rules which can be confusing to playmates.  Loud noises tend to upset children with Autism and some children will do certain  repetitive behaviors, called “stimming.”  Some behaviors are calming to them such as hand flapping; and some behaviors are potentially dangerous like head banging.  Autism service dogs can alert their handler of their “stimming” and then it is up to the handler to choose a different “stimming” behavior or stop “stimming” altogether.

A very structured routine is important to children with Autism.  When their routine is changed, they will most likely be stressed and agitated.  Children with Autism are also not big fans of waiting.  Applied pressure by using weighted vests or blankets can be very calming to children with Autism.  However, they are bulky to carry around.  Autism service dogs can be used to apply the pressure.

Children with Autism will not typically respond to their names being called and they have no real sense of danger.  They could easily wander off by themselves, go willingly with a stranger, or they may walk right out in front of a moving car.  Remember how I said loud noises upset children with Autism?  A smoke detector has a loud piercing tone which sends a message to us to exit the building quickly.  This message is not received to a child with Autism and because they are nonverbal and do not respond to the call of their names could be life threatening in a fire with heavy smoke.  Autism service dogs could guide their handler to safety or could be trained to find a specific person, perhaps a caregiver, if their handler was in trouble.

With the number of children being diagnosed somewhere on the Autism Spectrum on the rise, we need to heighten awareness.  World Autism Awareness Day is coming up on Wednesday April 2, 2014 with “Light It Up Blue,” an international campaign aimed at creating a better understanding of Autism.  Companies, Homes and Landmarks around the world are asked to change their lights to blue in an effort to shine a light on Autism Awareness.  To learn more please go to these websites:

Autism Speaks http://www.autismspeaks.org  Autism Speaks

Autism Society http://www.autism-society.org

Paws For Ability http://www.4pawsforability.org  Service-Dogs-Autism-Assistance-Dogs-logo