From the outside looking in, many individuals with autism appear just like any other average person. There are usually no outward signs that make them stick out from the crowd as someone with a disability, but autism, nonetheless, can be debilitating. Many of the battles autistic individuals fight are dealt with in their minds. They often look and act fairly normal, but there are certain activities that are beyond difficult for them to tackle in their everyday lives.
One of the hardest things about having autism is that there isn’t a cure. However, although there isn’t a cure, there are still several interventions, such as prescriptions, therapy, and service animals, that can be used to help make life easier. For example, a service dog is one of the best solutions for someone with autism, as it aids in communication, behavior, and social interaction. These are the main areas in which autism tends to affect a person the most. Autism is a spectrum disorder that varies by individual, so not all the needs of an autistic individual are the same. Some individuals with autism will benefit greatly from a service animal while others on the highly functioning end of the spectrum may be able to proceed in life without one. Therefore, it is up to the individual and those around them to determine whether a service dog or ESA may help.
What is an Autism Service Dog?
An autism service dog is trained specifically to guide and help those affected by autism. They are trained quite similarly to a guide dog’s training and go through a rigorous process to ensure that they are prepared for situations specific to the person they are paired with.
This includes learning how to cope with crowds, obey certain commands (such as basic commands like sit, stay, down – and also more specific commands like turn off the lights, fetch specific items, etc.), and behave appropriately in public. They also learn how to identify warning signs indicating their person may be close to a panic attack, seizure, an “episode,” or any other major concern. In the case that their person is about to experience one of these events, the dog will either comfort their owner or alert others in order to get help or medical attention for them. If there is a concern that the person may self-harm, the dog will even intervene, preventing them from causing harm to themselves. The dog will also be trained to guide their person if they ever experience disorientation. The dog will lead them to a car or safe space, so their person may recover from their episode.
There are many reasons for an autism service dog and many different elements that affect each case differently. Fortunately, service dogs can be trained for nearly any scenario. For many, this type of care from a special canine can be a lifesaver.
Who Qualifies for an Autism Service Dog?
Any autistic person may qualify for an autism service dog; they are available for both children and adults. If an autistic person cannot properly function in one or more different aspects of their daily life, they may qualify for an autism service dog. However, it is up to their medical or mental health professional to determine and prescribe an autism service dog; just like any other form of treatment, it must be signed off by a doctor to be considered an official service animal. Without proper paperwork, you may not be permitted to bring your autism service dog everywhere you go, and your employer, housing manager, or any transportation service may reject both you and your animal, or transportation services may charge you an extra fee since your service animal will only be considered a pet.
How to Qualify for an Autism Service Dog
Unfortunately for many who need them, service dogs aren’t always easy to acquire, and they aren’t cheap, either. Often, those who are high functioning are not permitted a service animal, even though they may still struggle through some daily routines. If they still feel the need for a service animal, they may be eligible for an emotional support animal, or ESA, which may be approved by a medical or mental health professional.
An autism service dog typically costs around $12,000 to $30,000, not including the routine necessities like food and grooming that the animal will need. Not to mention, the list for a service dog is extremely long, and it can often be a long, tedious process to get one. This makes it an almost impossible journey to obtain an autism service dog, and for those who really need them, the whole process can often be quite disappointing and frustrating.
Service dogs are an especially great companion for younger children with autism. These dogs are great for providing constant positive companionship, making difficult transitions, performing specific tasks, or simply making life easier for both their child and his or her parents. They can accompany the child to school, doctors’ visits, or most social situations. The dog helps reduce stress and anxiety that the child may experience, and it can help deflect emotions in negative situations, making life easier for everyone, not just the child.
There are a number of different companies and organizations that help align the proper service dog with a child. In most cases, if you can pay for the animal, they can find one for you. For those who struggle to attain an autism service dog financially, there are autism service dog grants that may help. It is important that this service animal is used correctly and actually needed; this not only ensures the individual gaining the dog is not wasting their time and money, but also that those who actually require a service dog receive one. With a long list and significant process to qualify and get a service dog, it is crucial that the animals don’t go to people who don’t deserve them. These animals go through extensive training tailored toward their owner’s needs. There needs to be a level of beneficial gain that the individual will have by gaining the service dog.
If financial status is an issue for obtaining a service dog, you aren’t out of options. Many local or state facilities will help with grants or fundraisers to help raise enough money for those who struggle to afford a furry friend that will help them function. Once the grant has been attained, business or organization can set you up with the right service dog to fit your needs.
What the Process Is Like
The application process for being able to secure a service dog varies based off where you are obtaining the animal. The basic requirements for many of the places to obtain a service dog for autism include the following:
- Child or adult applying for a service animal must have a documented Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis
- Child’s age at the time of the application’s submission: 4 to 11 years old
- Child’s age at the time of Autism Assistance Dog placement: 5 to 12 (max)
- No other dogs in the home
- The child must not have a fear of dogs
- The child must not have aggressive/violent behaviors towards others
- The home must have fenced yard (a common use area will not qualify)
- Ability to practice obedience and manners with Autism Assistance Dog daily
- Ability to always deal patiently and positively with your Autism Assistance Dog, as well as providing supervised exercise and playtime
- Ability to attend and pay for obedience classes and/or hire a private trainer
A service animal can really make a difference in an autistic individual’s life, especially those who aren’t as high functioning as others. The bottom line is that they can be extremely expensive, and they are a long-term commitment. But in the end, they are worth it.
If you’re having trouble attaining an autism service dog, but still struggle to make it through your day without extra help, an emotional support animal (ESA) may help. An ESA is quite similar to a service animal, and there are many laws protecting ESAs and their owners in nearly every situation.
An ESA can be nearly any animal; from guinea pigs to Bernese Mountain dogs, but it is important to consider the environment your animal will be in. If you currently live in a dormitory, it may be better to stick with a small animal for now. Many dorms will allow a cat or other small animal; however, it may be harder to bring a dog with you. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have a nice house with a yard, a dog may be perfect. Don’t forget to consider traveling, as well. If you travel a lot, it may be in your best interest to get a small dog or other small animals to make traveling easier for you.
In order to qualify for an ESA, your doctor must sign a letter that declares you need one and will benefit substantially from it. That way, you will be legally protected to bring your animal into your workplace, into a new apartment building or rental, or on any form of public transportation. You will not be required to “prove” your disability to others and are legally protected from those who unjustly insist on it. However, proper documentation may be required by housing authorities, restaurants, shops, workplaces, or transportation services. When declaring a dog an ESA, it is important to note that it is still important to properly train the animal, so they behave appropriately around others; otherwise, many businesses maintain the right to deny services to both you and your ESA.