Service Dogs are Best Friend of Children with Autism
Dogs are man’s best friend and the best friend of children who live with the challenge of autism, according to a new study conducted in Canada. Service dogs have long assisted people who have physical challenges, and now scientists have physical evidence that they can help children with autism as well.
Study supports what some already knew about kids and autism
A research team in Canada measured stress hormones in children with autism and interviewed their parents about their child’s behavior before, during, and after introducing a service dog into their home. Overall, the parents in the 42 families who participated in the study reported 33 problem behaviors (e.g., tantrums, anxiety, intolerance of noise) before the dog came into the home and only 25 while the dog was in the home.
The reduction in problem behaviors was accompanied by a decline in the levels of stress hormone (cortisol) in the children. Before introduction of service dogs, there was a 58 percent increase in morning cortisol levels after children awoke, which declined to 10 percent when service dogs were present. The increase in morning cortisol jumped to 48 percent once the dogs were removed from the families.
The families that participated in the study had the option of keeping the service dog that had helped their child. MIRA Foundation, in Quebec, which specializes in dogs for physically challenged individuals, provided the dogs. For this study, the dogs had undergone three months of training to remain calm even when in a chaotic environment.
An autism spectrum disorder affects about 1 in every 110 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies in Europe, North America, and Asia have noted an approximately prevalence of 0.6 to more than 1 percent.
Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities characterized by atypical development in behavior, communication skills, and socialization. These disorders include autistic disorder (autism), Asperger disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Children who have the latter two disorders have fewer and milder symptoms compared with autism.