Two topics that spark a enormous amount of passion in me: dogs and working with children with autism. First of all, I am the biggest dog lover you will ever meet. If I had it my way I would adopt every single dog I met and raise them on big dog farm, giving them the best life they could ever imagine. Second of all, and more importantly to this post, my little brother was diagnosed with autism a little over a year ago. Ever since that day, I have been adamant about learning about, advocating for, and supporting him through his journey.
Watching my family and brother face the anxieties of starting kindergarten, opened my eyes to how hard it is to ensure he receives the services he needs in my school district. Not only does this enrage me, but it got me thinking about the tons of creative services available to students with autism; one of them being service dogs. On autismspeaks.org there is an interview with the president of Custom Canines Service Dog Academy. She speaks a lot about the service dog program and the benefits of having an autism service dog. This specific interview doesn’t discuss having the dog in the classroom, however the overall benefits it provides the child carries over into ta classroom setting and is something I am very interesting in learning more about.
As common with children with autism, it is very easy to become overstimulated in their environments. Between the sounds and movements of their peers, and focusing on the tasks they are supposed to be doing, the classroom can become quite an anxiety provoking place. Service dogs are there as a source of comfort and stability when a panic attack might surface. As stated in the interview, they can also be used for children that tend to run away as they become over stimulated, acting as an anchor point. As you can see, having a service dog can provide not only the student with a sense of security and comfort, but also the teacher as they feel more confident in the stability of the student.
When it comes to the policy side of things and being able to provide this service, there are several issues that come up. There are concerns of who is responsible for feeding, walking, or caring for the dog through out the day, because as we know teachers hardly have enough time in the day as it is. Another important issue that is brought up is allergies. What if the students in the classroom are allergic to the dog? There are some that argue taking the child out of the classroom takes away from the school experience, but there are some that argue that it can be a good thing for the student because part of autism spectrum disorder is the desire to play or work alone. One last small concern is the fear of the dog becoming aggressive towards a child or teacher. While this is usually not an issue because the dogs go through intensive training, it is obvious why this would be on the minds of teachers and parents.
As a topic that really interests me and as something I am really passionate about, I plan on continuing to research the policies around service dogs. I also want to learn even more about autism spectrum disorder in general. With that being said, I thing finding an affordable way to allow children to have these service dogs would be absolutely incredible in the lives of so many people. Even with my brother, there are so many aspects of his life in which having a service dog would be beyond beneficial.