Try to imagine the day you realize your child is different from other children. This could be on his 4th birthday when he’s still not talking or when he sits happily for hours spinning the tire on his toy car. It could also be when you take your child to the park and she is more interested in the pattern of leaves falling from a tree than playing on the swings or slide. It could also be when you seek a medical opinion and your pediatrician mentions the word autism.

Autism is a complex neurological disability that differs for every individual. Individuals with autism are similar in that they all have impairments in communication, difficulty with social interactions, restricted areas of interest or patterns of behavior, and display unusual responses to sensory experiences. Children with autism might struggle with the communication of basic needs, and frequently dissolve into tantrums when they aren’t able to express a stomachache, hunger, or needing to go to the bathroom. Other children with autism may seek constant feedback from the world around them but be unable to tolerate a light touch on his shoulder or the sound of his sister’s excited voice. Some children may be able to communicate verbally, but have a processing delay that makes them withdraw completely when asked to respond to a question or participate in a conversation.

Many of the challenges experienced by children with autism and their families can be alleviated by the placement of an autism service dog. An individually trained autism service dog will bring consistency and peace of mind to a family’s daily life. When out in the community, children with autism can easily become overwhelmed by the amount of sensory input they receive from all of the people, movement, and sounds around them. While one family may find managing their child’s behavior in a busy parking lot a challenge, another family may struggle with walking from the house to the car safely. Additionally, some families feel it’s easier to stay home so they don’t have to face constant scrutiny from the public as their child melts down in the middle of a store or restaurant for a seemingly unknown reason.

It is situations and moments like these that start parents on the search for a solution. For some families, the solution is an autism service dog provided by Autism Service Dogs of America (ASDA). Founded in 2002, this Oregon based nonprofit has been raising, training, and placing service dogs with kids with autism spectrum disorders nationwide. ASDA’s service dogs provide physical safety and an emotional anchor for children with autism. With their child accompanied by a service dog, families are able to engage in activities as simple as going to the park or going out to eat as a family. As the child with autism’s sensory system becomes overwhelmed by external stimuli, the service dog provides both parent and child with a stabilizing influence. When out in the community, the service dog increases safety and helps eliminate behavioral outbursts by helping the child stay emotionally regulated and reducing the fears or challenging situations that can cause flight-based reactions. The service dog’s calming presence can ease feelings of anxiety and allow the child to develop more language skills as well as increase socially appropriate behaviors and responses.

For more information on Autism Service Dogs of America, recipient qualifications, application, and the placement process, please visit our website, www.autismservicedogsofamerica.org.