In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be bringing my autism service dog home. I’m really excited and can’t wait to take advantage of all the positive changes he’s going to bring to my life. As we count down the days, everyone in my family has been taking different steps to prepare for him. It’s a unique situation because while he’ll be a companion to me, welcoming a service dog into your home isn’t exactly like getting any other kind of pet.
If you or a loved one will be getting a service dog (or would like to), here are a few things to consider before you bring them home:
Know that the autism service dog will be integrated into many areas of your child’s life.
When my parents first started talking to me about getting an autism service dog, the idea that I would have a dog with me all the time took some getting used to. But as I learned more about the benefits, I decided it was something I wanted to try. Autism service dogs really are remarkable. They can help their human companions with daily tasks, such as getting ready for school, and also help them manage stress and anxiety.
But as this article on autism service dogs explains, one area where they are especially beneficial is helping young people on the autism spectrum manage their sensory issues. Many people on the autism spectrum can’t handle certain stimuli the way other people do. For example, loud noises, crowded areas, or even certain textures, can be very overwhelming. As the article notes, the dogs are specially trained to interact with their companion in these situations. They work to distract the person from their sensory overload so that the person can start to manage what they’re experiencing.
Make sure friends and family understand how an autism service dog differs from other pets.
One thing you’ll need to do before your autism service dog comes home is educate your loved ones about how your service dog differs from traditional pets. HuffingtonPost.com provides an informative Q&A from the perspective of an autism service dog. I think it does a good job of explaining why people can’t treat these animals the same as a pet. Service dogs are working animals. So, as the Q&A shows, when you see a service dog in public or when someone in your family has a service dog, the dog is “on duty” when they’re with their companion. The dog must devote all of his or her attention to the person in their care. When humans try to pet a service animal or act as a distraction in other ways, the dog isn’t able to do their job sufficiently.
Get your home ready for your autism service dog.
My brother is allergic to dogs so before my service dog comes home we’ll be putting up pet gates to keep him out of certain areas of the house. Pet gates are a great way to protect different areas of your house from being damaged by a pet or, as in my family’s case, to keep as much allergy-causing pet dander as possible out of areas my brother uses often. Of course, there are many other preparatory actions you’ll need to take. For example, you’ll need to set a designated feeding station for your dog, place leashes and harnesses in a convenient area, and so on.
Don’t be discouraged by the cost of an autism service dog.
If you’re considering a service dog for a loved one, know that their extensive training means that they can come at a high price. Service dogs can cost thousands of dollars, which can be a big surprise when you first start learning about them. However, many organizations that train the dogs provide options to help you fundraise to cover the costs. If you aren’t sure how to get started, AnythingPawsable.com offers many fun fundraising ideas to help you raise the money you’ll need.
Autism service dogs are very special. I’m honored and lucky to be able to bring one into my home. By taking these and other steps to prepare ahead of time, I think he’ll be very happy with us.
Photo credit: Amanda Fultz
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness Recommendations
Sign up now for a delightful weekly email with insights for the whole family.