In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 defines a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work and/or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.”
It is estimated that over 50,000 people with disabilities in the USA use assistance dogs and those numbers are rising annually. The history of Service Dogs being used to help people with disabilities dates back to the 1920′s.
Service Dogs help people with various disabilities. It’s the dog’s job, their pleasure, their dedication, and quite simply, it is their life. Guide dogs help blind people. Hearing dogs can aid the deaf or hard of hearing. Mobility Dogs are used by people in wheelchairs or by those people who need assistance with balancing. There are Psychiatric Service Dogs for people with PTSD, depression, bi-polar disorder, agoraphobia, and panic attacks. There are Service Dogs that detect and alert to seizures and low/high blood sugar too. And, there are Ssig dogs.
Ssig Dogs are Sensory Signal Dogs or Social Signal Dogs. They are trained to help people challenged by Autism. Autism affects about 1 in 50 children in many different and profound ways.
Ssig Dogs help with the sensory overload people with Autism often feel and to help calm their social fears. These dogs may let a child or adult know that they are doing a repetitive motion so the person can stop and remain calm. They also help people with sensory input problems steer clear of obstacles. They may stop children with Autism from running off. And, Service Dogs help keep people with Autism calm when they are in strange places or environments.
With children challenged by Autism, the Service Dog becomes a friend that the child may often speak to when they won’t speak to adults. These dogs are often fitted with two leashes — one for the child to hold or be tethered to and another one for a parent/handler/caregiver to hold. The dog will accept commands from the parents, thus providing a new sense of freedom and safety for the child and the parent. Some children have been known to give verbal commands to the dog even when they won’t speak to anyone else.
Best of all, Service Dogs help people challenged by Autism to communicate with the world around them. Being with a service dog often helps lengthen attention spans and improves the ability to focus longer on people and tasks. Service Dogs help increase the willingness of those with Autism to communicate with others and to make improved eye contact. All of this can happen when the child or adult feels safe and secure with a Service Dog.
As with hearing assistance dogs for the deaf, Autism Service Dogs may also be trained to alert their handler to important noises or other things requiring human intervention, such as smoke or a smoke alarm, a telephone ringing, doorbell, or a knock at the door. For a person with Autism, it isn’t always obvious which of the many external stimuli is the most urgent one requiring their most immediate attention. A person with Autism must sort through both major and minor stimuli—the sound of birds or crickets, the smell of the fabric softener on their clothes, a car driving by outside, or the hum of a dishwasher—in order to determine which of these, if any, needs their immediate attention. The individual might realize that a smoke alarm is urgent and requires them to exit the building, but with autism it may cause them to take longer to respond.
|Self Stimulation||Will Signal Handler to Behavior, Handler May Choose to Stop|
|Self Harming||Will Interrupt Behavior|
|Overstimulation/Meltdown/Shutdown||Deep Pressure Tasks: Step on Foot, Paws on Lap, Lay on Handler|
|Poor balance/motor control||Counter-balance, Brace for Stability|
|Disorientation||Find the car, Go Home, Find Other Specified Places|
|Auditory Processing Problems||Alert to Important Sounds|
|Visual Processing Problems||Guide Work – Steer Around Obstacles|
Many families find that “wandering” and “bolting” are very real dangers and challenges associated with Autism and many of our dogs are trained to be tethered to the child in public places with a parent holding the main leash as the handler. Many parents also request that we scent train the Autism Service Dog to find the child on command should he/she become lost or hide in the home, school, yard, or store.
Currently, there exists very little in the way of options and solutions for the nearly 500,000 children, teens, and young adults in California on the Autism Spectrum. Obviously there is even a greater need nationwide. Autism affects approximately 1 in 50 individuals in our country. More children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders each year than those diagnosed with AIDS, Cancer, and Diabetes combined.
For these special children and their families, a simple outing to a shopping mall, an excursion to the grocery store, or an afternoon errand is often a sheer impossibility. When attempted, these seemingly normal family activities often result in behavioral meltdowns, tantrums, wandering, and a multitude of dangerous behaviors which could easily endanger the entire family while in busy parking lots, in public places, and in crowds.
Further challenges are experienced in public when the individual challenged with Autism is unfairly ridiculed, and judged, often along with the parents and siblings, by uninformed or ignorant passers-by who mistakenly judge the child as misbehaving, undisciplined, or being raised by “bad parents.” Sometimes law enforcement or security are even summoned by passers-by in public places and often they are uninformed or uneducated about Autism and its manifestations.
Things are not much better at home for these same families. Often these young people affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders escape during the night, damage property by head banging, kicking, or throwing objects or themselves. Sometimes they eat unacceptable items from the home and yard. Many of them engage in repetitious behaviors both at home and in their educational environments.
Parents and siblings are in a constant state of stress, duress, exhaustion, and sleep deprivation. Marriages fall apart, siblings endure physical and emotional consequences and the families, as a whole, are taxed physically, emotionally, and financially.
In recent years, hundreds of families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders have found peace of mind, reprieve, safety, security, and a new sense of freedom and normalcy due to the relatively new existence of Autism Service Dogs. These highly trained service dogs not only help to keep a child from wandering, can find a child in a crowd, can help halt repetitive behaviors, can calm meltdowns and prevent them, but they serve as a reminder and educational tool of awareness to the public that the child has a disability and needs compassion and empathy rather than judgment and ridicule.
At this time there exist only a few negatives or road blocks in pairing families with Autism Service Dogs. The first, is that the need is so great that there are long waiting lists with most organizations who provide service dogs and families are in desperate and immediate need. Secondly, the few nationwide organizations that specialize in Autism Service Dogs have restrictions which do not allow most families to be served. These include strict age requirements and rules pertaining to families not being allowed other family pets.
Pawsitive Service Dog Solutions strives to fill that growing niche and serve those families and individuals who seem to be falling through the cracks. We have no age restrictions and work to provide solutions in order to pair children and individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders with service dogs, particularly where they have met resistance with other organizations.
An organization’s cost to raise, train and place an Autism Service Dog typically runs between $20,000-30,000 per dog. Pawsitive Service Dog Solutions provides these highly-trained dogs to their families with little cost to the families by a cooperative fund raising effort, scholarships, grants, and donations. Also the cost of acquiring and maintaining a service dog is fully tax deductible as a medical expense.You can read what the IRS says about this HERE.
Pawsitive Service Dog Solutions partners with experienced and reputable service dog breeders and trainers to ensure a highly trained, intelligent, and predictable dog who will be trained in 12-14 months for the waiting family and child. Initially each dog is fostered by an individual, family, 4H or scout member for anywhere from 4-10 months. During this time, basic dog obedience is completed along with socialization and preliminary training.
After this initial period, Pawsitive Service Dog Solutions partners with experienced service dog trainers in Northern California to complete the specialized training, skills and tasks required for a specific dog to master the skills necessary to serve the individual on the Autism Spectrum. The dog is literally trained and tailored to the specific needs and behaviors of the individual waiting for the dog.
Most families with an individual on the Autism Spectrum report immediate tangible benefits upon receiving a new Autism Service Dog. These immediate improvements often include: reduced behaviors, improved sleeping patterns and quality of sleep, increased calmness and tranquility in the home and educational environments, and improved communication, verbalization, and socialization for the person with ASD.
“He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.) When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful. He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.”–Gene Hill