As of 2012, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 50 children between the ages of six and seventeen has autism spectrum disorder, with males being four times more likely than females to have these conditions (Slaughter 1). Autism is a developmental disorder that effects the brains normal development of social and communication skills. Service dogs are normally used to aid the blind, deaf or hard of hearing, and other types of disabilities. Service dogs have recently been used to help children with autism. The service dog industry has had a growing impact on the autism community, the benefits and disadvantages affect each child differently.
Autism was first discovered by Leo Kanner in 1943, he labeled it as early infantile autism. Most causes of autistic children before Kanner’s discovery were thought to be possessed and were put through very inhumane conditions. Autism is the prototypical form of a spectrum of related, complex, neuro developmental disorders referred to as autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs), also known as pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) (Berry 73). The main symptom of Autism is the inability to easily communicate and interact with others. A cure for autism has not been discovered, but there are reports of some children that have naturally recovered. Symptoms are noticed in early years of life, normally around the age of three. The onset of the disease must be before the age of three years (Berry 73). The families with an autistic child have to adjust their daily activities around the child at all times. It is very difficult for an autistic child to be in a crowded area or in new environments.
Dogs have been the most common service assistance animal since 1927. There are numerous types of service assistance animals such as: mobility assistance, seizure alert, medical alert, guide, seeing eye, and psychiatric service dogs. The first service dog was placed with a child with autism in 1997 (Burrows 1). Retrievers are normally the main type of dog breed used for assistance because of their calm character. Canine aggression is particularly crucial to avoid around a child with autism due to the child’s inability to correctly attend to and interpret the dog’s social signals (Burrows 44). Each dog chosen is heavily trained and monitored before being placed with a family.
Autistic children normally stray away from big crowds and tend to alienate themselves often. Studies indicate that there have been many benefits from the use of a service dog for a child with autism. Numerous cases showed an increase in the child’s social development. In fact, the integration of assistance dogs resulted in beneficial effects on children’s behavior with decreased anxiety and anger, increased calmness, reduction in the number of emotional outburst (tantrums), and more manageable bedtime routines (Berry 74). In some cases the child learned to calm himself, in situations of high stress, by simply petting the dog. The...