Service dog refers to any dog individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Most people have heard of service dogs for the blind, but service dogs help children and adults with many different disabilities or special needs, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
Dogs and children just go together and bringing a service dog into the life of a child with special needs can truly be life changing. Dogs can not only assist children with everyday challenges giving them more independence but they can also help children make friends more easily and allow others to see past the child’s disability.
There are different types of service dogs depending on the tasks that they will be expected to assist the child with and each dog is trained to meet the specific needs of the child it will be partnered with. Below are some of the major types of service dogs.
Mobility Assistance Dogs - They can help with retrieving objects that are out of reach, pulling wheelchairs, opening and closing doors, turning light switches on and off, barking for alert, finding another person, or a myriad of other tasks. Basically, they help a child with a disability become more independent.
Dogs for the Blind - Also known as “Seeing Eye Dogs” or “Guide Dogs,” they serve as eyes for their owner. They are trained to guide blind people through the world otherwise unassisted, avoiding all obstacles, including navigating sidewalks, streets, and stairs.
Hearing and Signal Dogs – They can assist deaf or hearing impaired children, alerting them to a variety of sounds. This is usually done by the dog coming up to the person then going back to the source of the sound. They can signal door knocking, door bells, phones, smoke alarms, and crying.
Seizure/Alert Response Dogs - They respond when a child has a seizure and go to get help. Some are even trained to hit a button on a console to automatically dial 911 then bark when the voice comes over the speaker.
Psychiatric Service Dogs – These dogs can help a child with a mental (psychiatric) disability. Examples of mental disabilities include, among others, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia. Psychiatric service dogs can help children by alerting to and/or responding to mood changes, panic attacks, oncoming anxiety. The dogs can also be helpful in alerting or distracting the child from repetitive and obsessive thoughts or behaviors as well as many other tasks directly related to the specific child’s disability.
Autism Service Dogs - Dogs have been proven to be an asset for children diagnosed with autism and their families. An autism service dog can comfort as well as calm children who suffer from autism. Service dogs for children with autism can become an invaluable resource for cultivating independent living skills and improving social interactions. If the child wanders they can also help locate the child, help stop certain behaviors, assist a child to safely cross the street and many other things.
According to the federal American Disabilities Act, any dog assisting a person with a disability is considered a service dog—exclusive of therapy dogs, which provide therapeutic support in settings such as hospitals and nursing homes—and are thus entitled to freely access buildings and all public transportation. This means that a service dog can even accompany a child to school.
While many people think of service dogs as helping out with everyday tasks, the relationship between the child and animal has the potential to go far beyond physical assistance. The service dog becomes a friend and a companion.
A service dog is no guarantee for improvement in a child’s condition. It can, however, be an important, cost-effective solution to a number of difficulties for the child with a disability.
Creative commons-licensed photo provided by fj40troutbum
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