If you’ve spent any time at either the PediaPlex Southlake or Fort Worth office, you’ve met our most friendly therapist – Otis. He’s recognizable mostly because of his four paws and long tail! Yep, Otis is our resident therapy dog and he spends his days greeting our superstar patients and leaving smiles everywhere he goes. And in full disclosure, I’m using this month’s National Bring Your Pet to Work Day on June 21 as our excuse to talk about autism service dogs, and of course brag about Otis along the way (that’s Otis in the snazzy sunglasses).
There are various levels of training and settings dogs can be used for are generally referred to as: Companion dogs, Therapy dogs, Service dogs. In this article we’re referring primarily to autism service dogs; dogs who are trained to express affection and comfort to those in stressful situations. This aligns with dogs’ natural instinct and ability to sense emotion and connect using non-verbal means. Autism service dogs are specially trained to perform very specific tasks and functions which can be useful to those who cannot physically do basic, routine tasks themselves. The Autism Speaks organization provides resources for autism service dogs.
Specifically for our children with autism, these loving therapy dogs provide so much value and positive support! In a therapeutic setting, the dog can engage the child in certain games/activities or simply provide a bit of calm to the patient in a setting that is stressful for the patient. Dogs have a natural ability to sense our emotions and somehow connect with us, and this is such a helpful model for many young kiddos who have a difficult time connecting and interacting. Otis’ presence immediately brings down the anxiety level in a therapy room and his wet nose seems to always make the kids smile.
In a more pragmatic day-to-day perspective, autism service dogs which live in your home can bring a tremendous upside in the quality of life. Your brilliant shining star of a child can learn to engage physical activity (walking the dog, cleaning the dog) and learn to grow in his/her responsibilities by caring for the animal. Specially trained autism service dogs can even learn to disrupt harmful behavior and de-escalate potential emotional meltdowns. For example, a dog can be trained to gently lay his head on a child’s lap when the child begins to demonstrate high stress and anxiety behavior. Please take note, before bringing a dog (or any pet!) into your home you MUST consider your child’s individual sensitivities and your family’s dynamic. It must be a fit for all!
Let’s recap the benefits of therapy dogs:
trained to express affection and comfort to those in stressful situations
sense emotion and connect using non-verbal means
perform very specific tasks and functions which can be useful to those who cannot physically do basic, routine tasks themselves
engage the child in certain games/activities or simply provide a bit of calm to the patient in a setting that is stressful for the patient
help autistic children learn to engage physical activity (walking the dog, cleaning the dog) and learn to grow in his/her responsibilities by caring for the animal
Otis isn’t usually dressed up as fancy as you see him here but he IS always loving on your children and bringing comfort and connection during the sometimes-stressful therapy moments. We’d love you to stop by to visit us and meet our most famous therapist for yourself. And remember on June 21 – BRING YOUR DOG TO WORK and let the world see how affectionate and truly comforting these furry companions can be!