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Service Dogs: Changing the World of Autism - A Brigadoon Service Dogs News Article (2008)

Autism now affects one in every 150 children — a disorder of almost epidemic proportions. A diagnosis of autism not only impacts the child, but it also changes the lives of every family member. It means setting new priorities, rearranging hopes and dreams, and frequently results in social isolation.

Once believed to be a type of mental illness, autism is now recognized as a sensory processing disorder. It affects the areas of the brain that control language, social interaction, and creative and abstract thinking. Autism knows no bounds — it affects rich and poor alike.

People with autism process and respond to information in unique ways. Many children with autism engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behavior such as biting or head-banging. They don’t know how to play interactively with other children. While many have a reduced sensitivity to pain, they are abnormally sensitive to sound, touch, or other sensory stimulations. These reactions may cause a child to become resistant to being hugged or cuddled.

There is no cure for autism and the cause is still a mystery. It’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role in the disorder.

Therapy and behavioral interventions can bring about substantial improvement. Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better. Family counseling for parents and siblings often helps families cope with the challenges of living with an autistic child. And various medications may be used to handle specific symptoms.

Service dogs have been proven to provide life-changing benefits for both the child and his or her family. Autism service dogs have the potential to improve a child’s communication skills and behavior. Dogs have been used to “anchor” autistic children and keep them from running into dangerous situations. They provide the child or adult challenged with autism an opportunity to safely access different environments which results in improved social skills. The service dog’s presence offers a calming influence and provides a sense of security to the child and the parents.

Autistic children with service dogs have fewer emotional outbursts, their abstract thinking and ability to focus improve, and their attention spans increase. Dogs trained to work with autistic children must master specific responses. They are taught to retrieve a child to a parent, they interrupt potentially dangerous behavior, they alert parents to night awakenings and will crawl onto a child’s lap to provide comfort. Perhaps best of all, they are steadfast friends devoted to changing the lives of these special children.

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