Dogs for Children with Autism

My mom is going to school now. It seems if you are over 60 you can go to school for free here. How exciting for her. Shes taking English and PortugueseII and another class. I forget which one really but there is a third. She also works at sears and is a LMT. pretty cool to have a mom that can come and give you a massage when you need it , don’t you think? Anyway ,I digress. She wrote a paper on dogs and autistic kids. It got me thinking.

It seems for some autistic kids there is a huge imbalance in cortisol (stress hormone) and circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycles). Sammy seems to be one of those kids. He has a hard time both sleeping and waking , resting and regulating.  He becomes anxious easily and stresses over things beyond my comprehension.  Kids like Sammy struggle with a higher level of cortisol and have difficult with day to day regulation.

“Cortisol rhythm is extremely out of sync in children with ASD, due to imbalanced melatonin and ACTH production. The more severe the autism, the more abnormal the diurnal rhythms.9 The need for cortisol is so great however, that cortisol suppression is resistant to dexamethasone-suppression testing.10 While there is a huge cortisol dysregulation, DHEA-S and testosterone seem to be similar in children with autism and those without.11″ read the full article here

There is evidence suggesting that animals, like dogs, lower cortisol in children like Sammy. It can help them adjust to new environments and new people. The mornings are the hardest part of our day and it seems some ASD kids have a spike in cortisol about 30 minutes after waking in the morning. 

In the two weeks before the dogs were brought in, the children’s cortisol levels rose 58 percent during the first 30 minutes they were awake in the morning. But when the dogs were present, this awakening response was reduced to just a 10 percent rise. And when the dogs were taken away after four weeks, the cortisol awakening response jumped back up to a 48 percent increase. read the full article here

So maybe a dog would help him. I don’t know that I interested in an actual service dog but maybe more a companion dog. There are tons of articles supporting companion dogs for kids like Sammy. He melts around dogs and babies. The barking doesn’t seem to bother him and maybe I could teach the dog to wake him in the morning rather than me. I don’t know whats best for Sammy yet.  I know an older dog would be best for us and it has to be a bigger breed dog to not get lost in the shuffle. Of course there is cost, vet bills,upkeep and grooming. Does the cost negate the benefit? How do I make this decision

I just want to make things easier for him. I hate seeing him struggle in the mornings and cry about everything. Maybe if his stress levels were lower he would be able to get dressed and enjoy time in the morning without all the tears. Like everything else it is simply about making t better for Sammy and the rest of us. His autism affects all of us in this house. 

What do you think , would you consider a dog to help your child? whats the down side? Is there anything I am forgetting?

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Annemarie Chagnon
We are currently a family of 7 (yes 7 really) My husband and I have 5 children on earth and one precious baby in heaven. We are Catholic and we are Quiverful. We live in a small town in Southern Massachusetts. We try to live as simply as possible. We are a family of special needs people and we work every day to make this house work
Annemarie Chagnon

Annemarie Chagnon

We are currently a family of 7 (yes 7 really) My husband and I have 5 children on earth and one precious baby in heaven. We are Catholic and we are Quiverful. We live in a small town in Southern Massachusetts. We try to live as simply as possible. We are a family of special needs people and we work every day to make this house work

7 thoughts on “Dogs for Children with Autism

  • I work with three different families who have service dogs, and for the most part, they are incredibly happy for their dogs.
    Now on to the fact that you aren’t really sure you want to consider an actually trained service dog; you need to know that a dog can only tolerate so much. And yes, any dog that is raised from being a puppy with a child with autism will gain knowledge, and know that child. But there is no guarentee that dog will not turn on your child at some point during a fit.
    I have a 10 pound shih tzu who I use with some of my clients because during their aggitated states, bringing Toby in creates a distraction. He’s amazing, he lays down, is calm, and just watches them. Or lets them pick him up and hold him and cuddle him for stimulation that they may crave. So he works well for children with autism. But some dogs just aren’t able to provide that loving, instinctual bond with children. And you’ll have to work long and hard with that dog to make them in a position where you can trust both the child and the dog to treat each other correctly.
    Anyway, I know with the clients I have that have service dogs, that some of their funding can be used towards the vet bills, and grooming costs… since it’s a “service dog”.
    If you’re just going to get a “pet”, I doubt that you’d be able to get funding for that. and dogs do cost a lot.
    I mean, my shih tzu in the last year has cost us almost 3000 dollars in vet bills. Mind you, he’s a puppy mill dog, and was not treated the way he should have been treated, and that’s why he had so many vet visits. But dogs health are just like us… we get sick sometimes, and so do they. and vets are not cheap. So it’s something that you have to consider long and hard about.
    If you’d like any more information about the families I’ve worked with who have had service dogs, or even just my experience with families who have had dogs in their home while having children with autism… then feel free to give me a message.
    I hope you find the right decision for you and your family.

  • Dear Friend:

    I think, the great majority of people would recommend you to have a dog.Is easy to understand the great benefits it will bring, besides of those related to health, as you have researched (congratulations,great job!).Please, tell your Mom I admire her endurance,hard working style of living..She is a succesfull woman.I admire you too,for caring so lovingly for your family.Sorry if my english isn`t the best…my native language is Spanish.My best regards .Sincerely yours: Fer

  • I think animals really help children learn to socialize.  The behavior of domesticated animals is much more predictable then that of other children.  It is simple, if I pet kitty she purrs, if I pull the dog’s tail he tries to bite me.  Animals also help children learn empathy.  I think it is beneficial for all children to spend some time with animals.    

  • My dog was raised with a kid with autism, but had to be given up because she couldn’t get along with their other dog. There’s a few kids in my neighborhood with aspergers/autism and the just love her. She does so well with them and they don’t even mind that she’s a “big scary doberman”. They get rough with her and the only time I stop it is if I think they’re hurting her.

  • I would still look at a “service” dog that didn’t make the cut… They are great companions after receiving the training and of course the only negative I can think of really is the cost. If it such a great help to the lowering of the level I would have no compunction whatsoever about doing what I think may help my child in this situation. I know that a dog can help regular people just calm down so imagine the calming affect on Sammy…

    I wish you all the best in this and will keep you guys in my prayers and heart. Good Luck.

  • dogs are great! if they can help, why not? =) i have 3. 


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