The Amazing Abilities of Autism Service Dogs

October 1, 2015
Allie Gleason
A smiling man talking to a student in his office.

This was one of the most eventful summers I’ve ever had. I traveled to several swim meets with my swim team. We spent many Saturdays together, and I enjoyed the time bonding with my teammates. I was also fortunate enough to attend a week at an arts camp. It was the longest I’d ever spent away from home. I was very nervous about it, but once I got wrapped up in the camp’s activities, the week flew by.

Then, when I got home, I had another big surprise. The autism service dog we’d been waiting for had shown up a little early.

Teddy is his name, and he’s great. It has taken me some time to get used to having a dog with me wherever I go, but I’ve already seen ways he helps me. I can certainly see why autism service dogs are increasingly being used by people on the autism spectrum.

If you aren’t familiar with the amazing benefits of autism service dogs, here are just a few:

They make social situations easier.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve had my fair share of problems making friends. Thankfully, being involved with swimming has helped me a lot in that department. But I bet if you talk to people at my school who aren’t my swim teammates, they’d probably describe me as shy and quiet—or they wouldn’t know who I am because I’ve never been brave enough to talk to them!

What I’ve noticed with Teddy, and as this article on the social benefits of autism service dogs points out, is that when he’s around, people are curious about him, which makes it easier for me to talk to them. Even in the most optimal of situations, it can be difficult for me to answer questions about myself, but I’ve found that I enjoy talking about Teddy. I think it is really helping me gain confidence about speaking to people I don’t know well.

They can literally save a life.

The social benefits of service dogs are extraordinary, but even more important is how they keep children on the autism spectrum safe.

I’m fortunate in that wandering or eloping has never been a problem for me. But for many children on the spectrum, the impulse can quickly put them in harm’s way.

As this piece on the impact service dogs have on people with autism explains, service dogs can be specially trained to reduce the risk of a child wandering off. A child can be tethered to their service dog. So, if the child tries to wander, the dog will lie down to make it difficult for the child to move or will bark to alert the child’s parents or caregivers. In this way, the dog provides an additional watchful eye and can help keep children out of dangerous situations.

They help alleviate anxiety.

Most people think of going to a crowded store or hearing a loud noise as a normal, everyday experience. However, for people on the autism spectrum, these and other situations can lead to paralyzing anxiety.

Autism service dogs can alleviate this anxiety simply by providing a calming presence. And as explains, they can take it a step further by using their bodies to apply pressure to the agitated person. The weight and pressure from their body is actually soothing and can be very helpful when a person on the spectrum becomes overwhelmed by their surroundings.

They are excellent companions.

Teddy is highly trained and as a service dog he has many talents that other “regular” dogs might not have.

But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t make a great four-legged friend. We’ve already formed a tight bond, and I think it will only grow stronger through the years.

Autism service dogs can keep people on the autism spectrum safe and perform many helpful tasks, but as this article on service dogs notes, the companionship they provide is just as essential. It points out that parents of children who’ve begun working with an autism service dog report that their child seeks out “companionship, comfort and confiding in ways never seen by family members.” 
When Teddy came into my life, I really didn’t know what to expect. But so far, he has helped me in many positive ways. I think autism service dogs are definitely something parents of children on the spectrum should consider.
Allie Gleason, a teen with Asperger's Syndrome, is part high school student, part volunteer-intern-extraordinaire at EducatorLabs, part cheerleader for all those affected by ASD. Writing has become a huge outlet for her; she appreciates you taking the time to read her article! For more from Allie, check out What Swimming Can Do When You Have Asperger's.

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