Service dogs are widely used to help individuals manage their daily lives and complete tasks that might otherwise be difficult for them to do alone. However, service dogs are not available to everyone. In order to acquire a service dog, you need to have some type of disability that inhibits your own abilities to complete tasks. Your service animal will then help you manage parts of your disability and help you complete difficult tasks.
For example, some service animals help their owners get up from their chair, or even retrieve their medications for them. Alternatively, some service dogs are trained for very specific disabilities, like blindness. A service dog who assists a blind person must be able to prevent their owner from running into objects and alert their owner of any potential hazards.
But what about ADHD? What are the symptoms of ADHD that necessitate a service dog? And how do service dogs assist those with ADHD? We will answer all of these questions and more below, but let’s begin by defining the condition.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is short for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The condition usually appears in early childhood. While some of the symptoms of ADHD may decrease in adulthood (especially with proper treatment), many symptoms can be present for life. The following symptoms are commonly found in those diagnosed with ADHD:
- Difficulty paying attention – This is one of the most common symptoms of ADHD, though it is also prevalent in people with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). In any case, this condition usually presents itself when parents, teachers, or other authority figures are unable to keep a child-focused on a given task. This can lead to difficulties with learning and socialization.
- Hyperactivity – Excessive energy and activity help differentiate ADHD from ADD. Hyperactivity is most common in children and tends to subside to some degree once those with ADHD grow into adulthood. Hyperactive children may have difficulty sitting still or staying quiet for more than a few minutes at a time.
- Impulsive behavior – This symptom tends to be present in both children and adults with ADHD. When a person dealing with ADHD acts impulsively, he or she will make decisions rashly, or rush through tasks without giving them much thought. In a school or workplace setting, this can lead to unnecessary errors. It can also lead to strong emotional responses and potentially risky behavior.
There is no cure for ADHD, but there are various ways for parents, teachers, and medical professionals to help a child (or adult) manage the symptoms. Medication and behavioral therapy are two of the most common methods. In some cases, children or adults with ADHD could benefit from a service dog. To better understand how a service dog can help those with ADHD, let’s look at the required qualifications to obtain a service animal.
What are the Qualifications to Obtain a Service Dog?
In order to obtain a service dog, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 12 years of age, unless a service dog is needed for a child with autism (then the age is 6-12). This one is especially important for patients with ADHD, as they are often diagnosed at a very young age. While a service dog can help with ADHD, it may not be the first course of treatment if the child is too young.
- Have a diagnosed physical disability, an anxiety disorder such as PTSD, debilitating chronic illness, or neurological disorder affecting at least one limb.
- Reside in a stable home environment.
- Be physically and cognitively capable of participating in the process of training, up to one hour per day.
- Be able to independently command and handle a service dog.
- Be able to meet the physical, emotional, and financial needs of a service dog.
- Have no other dog in the home (other animals as pets are permitted).
The symptoms of ADHD can become very overwhelming and may negatively impact an individual’s day-to-day life. Owning a dog can help these individuals battle their disorder, but can a service dog improve their overall well-being? And do ADHD patients actually qualify for service animals?
Can Someone with ADHD Obtain a Service Dog?
As you can see above, there are very specific criteria in place that help determine whether or not someone can have a service dog. That said, the lines are a little blurry when it comes to ADHD because it isn’t an anxiety disorder, it is a neurological disorder. Additionally, it doesn’t affect the limbs, and it is not a physical disability.
The “in” for someone with ADHD obtaining a service dog comes from its potential status as a debilitating chronic illness. In most cases, ADHD is not debilitating, but it can be for some individuals. Those who would like a service dog but don’t meet the requirements may benefit from a therapy dog or an emotional support animal. These are the most popular scenarios for someone with ADHD.
It is important to note the differences between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. Service animals (typically dogs) have been trained to perform specific tasks that a person is incapable of performing on their own. For this reason, service animals are allowed in public spaces where other animals (possibly including emotional support animals) may not be allowed to go.
Alternatively, emotional support animals are not trained in specific tasks, nor are there as many limitations on the types of animals that qualify; dogs, cats, birds, and even miniature horses can qualify as emotional support animals. In the United States, the Fair Housing Act covers the legal definitions of emotional support animals. This law helps protect emotional support animals and their owners when attempting to rent a living space. So, if you or someone close to you suffers from ADHD, but the condition is not considered “debilitating,” an emotional support animal may be the best option for you.
Those dealing with ADHD also have the option of seeking treatment with a therapy dog, but this is a little more complicated, as therapy animals are often used exclusively in treatment facilities. To put it simply, a therapy dog is any dog that meets certain criteria required to provide psychological and emotional support to an individual. However, by this definition, many dogs would probably qualify. Many people adopt dogs for this very purpose: to provide emotional support and companionship. In reality, therapy dogs are used for specific intervention treatments for those suffering any kind of mental pain or debilitation.
Therapy dogs can be used for a variety of circumstances. For example, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospice care facilities often use therapy dogs to combat loneliness and depression among the residents. When children (or adults) suffer the loss of a close family member, therapy dogs are a great way to encourage healing and help the individual cope with emotional trauma.
It is important to note that there are different kinds of therapy dogs that all serve different purposes. Generally, therapy dogs can be divided into three categories:
- Therapeutic Visitation Dogs – This is the most common type of therapy dog. These pets and their owners visit hospitals, mental health facilities, and other healthcare centers to prevent patients from feeling lonely, disconnected, or hopeless.
- Animal Assisted Therapy Dog – This type of therapy dog is generally reserved for rehabilitation clinics. Under the guidance of a trained physiotherapist, these dogs help patients regain mobility through various motor-control activities.
- Facility Therapy Dog – These dogs are often used exclusively in elderly care facilities to alert staff of any issues with the patients. They also provide companionship to the residents, many of whom do not have any living friends or relatives outside of the facility.
In short, it can be difficult for people with mild to moderate ADHD to qualify for a service dog, and therapy dogs are usually limited to treatment facilities. As a result, emotional support animals are usually the best choice for these situations. Nonetheless, if your ADHD is debilitating, you can still qualify and obtain a service dog.
How Do Service Dogs Benefit Those with Debilitating ADHD?
Those with debilitating ADHD can still benefit from a service dog. A service dog can help them regain some control over their life. For example, when a person with ADHD gets distracted from an important task, a service dog can help redirect the owner’s attention back to the task at hand. Dogs require schedules, so having the animal can help serve as a routine for the owner. Every morning you take your dog out, you get the dog food, you take your dog for a walk, etc. Having routine is great for individuals with debilitating ADHD, as it is a way to keep their mind focused and alert.
Additionally, service dogs can help ADHD patients deal with their hyperactivity. Having an animal allows you the opportunity to go for a run, a hike, or even swim together. This can help patients stay in shape, while also burning off some of their excess energy.
As stated previously, service dogs aren’t for everyone, and an emotional support dog may be a better option for someone with ADHD. Emotional support dogs can offer the following benefits:
- Be an outlet for excess energy
- Be a non-judgmental companion
- Provide social interaction opportunities
- Encourage routines
- Decrease stress
- Offer a healthy distraction
If you aren’t able to qualify for a service dog, don’t be discouraged. Your options don’t end there. If you’re living with ADHD, almost any kind of companion can be of great benefit to you. Whether you have a service dog, emotional support animal, or simply a dog for a pet, you can reap some benefits from this relationship.