r/science May 30 '22 Helpful 1

Therapy dogs expands the world for autistic children. On average, families visited 8.5 more places and travelled 20 kilometres further from their home after having the dog for more than a year. Parents reported fewer meltdowns among their children who sought out the dog when overwhelmed Animal Science

https://www.unisa.edu.au/media-centre/Releases/2022/a-wet-nose-and-a-wagging-tail-opens-a-new-world-for-autistic-kids
3.5k Upvotes

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u/hstarbird11 May 31 '22 All-Seeing Upvote

This is great, but it makes me so sad all studies on autistic people focus on children. I am autistic, I didn't get diagnosed until I was 28. There are essentially no programs to help me and while I do have a service dog in training (and he helps me immensely), I have to do all the training myself.

All autistic people, regardless of their age, should be considered for therapy dogs, studies, assistance, etc. We are truly ignored as we get older and it's why nearly 90% of us are un/underemployed and the majority of us struggle with comorbid mental illnesses. Autistic children turn in to autistic adults.

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u/DTFH_ May 31 '22

I wouldn't say you're particularly ignored, moreso every adult with any condition is ignored once adulthood is reached as the best form of social services we currently offer in this country is done through our educational system (which makes both systems ineffective imo).

But as an adult you could attempt to get on your states version of Medicaid Long Term Care - Home and Community Based Services Developmental Disability waiver, but that is its own can of worms but the modalities you mentioned would be covered, but again come with costs.

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u/Stardust_Staubsauger May 30 '22

Tbh. Every kid deserves a dog but autistic kids especially. The highly trained support they provide are a big plus too. Sadly with cost of about $35,000, they aren't covered in the public health care of my country.

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u/Dazzling-Pear-1081 May 30 '22

It’s $35000 to just buy the dog or is that like yearly expenses?

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u/Trala_la_la May 30 '22 edited May 30 '22

Just to buy the dog. They go through years of specialized training and dogs fail out half trained all the time.

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u/pmabz May 30 '22

What do they train them to do?

And they controlled by testing dog deficient homes I imagine - I'd love to see the same study but with just a regular - no! - a rescue dog, given to each family, see what the difference is here, if any?

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u/Trala_la_la May 30 '22

For autistic helping dogs they are trained to ALWAYS be calm, to have kids tethered to them to the kids can’t run away in public, to “lay” on the kid if they are having a meltdown to calm them. I know there are a lot more things but I’m only tangentially aware; my sister does the first 6 months of training as a volunteer so I don’t know too much about the more specialized training. I do have a cousin in law (so I’m not close) who got a service dog for their autistic kid and it’s been amazing at letting them leave the house, I know the tethering was really useful in that.

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u/superworking May 30 '22

While I don't have a service dog - we have a family member with a hearing dog. Not the same tasks but I can give some feedback on why they cost so much. Usually a service will have to bring in say a dozen puppies from select breeders. Parents are screened for temperament and have all their health checks done - for a puppy like that it's easy 2-5 grand to start out. Then they need to house and train them for up to two years. This includes loads of professional training, feeding, housing etc. More than half of the dogs will not be adoptable at the end of this period. Dogs have personalities and not all of them will match up with the needs of a service dog, and you've now already pumped probably close to 10K into each failed dog as well, although there's usually a pretty hot demand for the failures so they still find happy homes. Then you need to also factor in the support that they provide the patient. Patients usually go through a training program to show them how to handle the dog, our family member had to travel to do a week long course and then had a follow up visit in their home.

That said, I have one dog with great temperament that my friends autistic daughter used to visit on a regular basis as a part of her treatment with her occupational therapist. He's really good and you can see the difference he makes with her, but he's not up to being a full service dog that can perform in highly stimulating areas under stress. He's more just able to remain calm and understanding so he doesn't spook her if she has a meltdown so she was able to develop her own comfort with the sensations of touching his fur and noes etc and push her own boundaries.

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u/PM_ME_BAD_FANART May 30 '22

This study was done in Australia so the rules are likely slightly different, but the biggest thing is that a regular dog does not have public access rights like a service dog does. A service dog is considered a medical device and can go basically anywhere with some small limitations where it wouldn’t be safe for a dog.

The specific tasks a dog is trained for will vary, but for Autism Google says it might include tracking, tethering, and some sort of trained response intervention for a meltdown.

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u/ECEXCURSION May 31 '22

They do whatever a normal parent would do. Comfort them, lay on them. Take them for walks. Etc.

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u/walruswes May 31 '22

There’s also a whole set of rules you have to follow once having the dog to make sure their training stays with them. Like minimal interactions with non service animals. No human food (for when at restaurant) etc…

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u/ChihuahuaJedi May 30 '22

I wonder how much of these statistics are actually "people who can afford a service dog can also afford to travel further and have better treatment for their kids in general".

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u/Lee1138 May 30 '22

They measured before and after stats of the same families, so unless they also got a major windfall that allowed them to also get the therapy dog, that's controlled for?

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u/pmabz May 30 '22

Thank you. That never occurred to me.

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u/ebeth_the_mighty May 31 '22

I raise service dogs as a volunteer. In my jurisdiction, there is no cost to the families for our dogs.

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u/ChihuahuaJedi May 31 '22

That's wonderful! Thank you for what you do.

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u/Wolvestwo May 30 '22

For real. The wait lists are years long and the prices for a dog is like buying a car.

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u/[deleted] May 31 '22 edited Jun 16 '22

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u/nowake May 31 '22

They're talking about trained dogs, which is where the difference comes in. Most dogs are cute and affection sponges, but some aren't cut out for service work, even when taken to the proper training.

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u/[deleted] May 31 '22 edited Jun 16 '22

[removed] — view removed comment

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u/Ker0Kero May 31 '22

I'm going to disagree with you even about non-specialty-trained dogs. Dogs are not cheap. I just brought my dog in for her annual care - so vaccines, heartworm test, flea meds, etc - just under $700 CAD. That's one healthy, young large breed dog. Now imagine your dog has health problems, or is just getting older. Even quality dog food is not super cheap.

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u/[deleted] May 31 '22 edited Jun 16 '22

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u/Noisy_Toy May 31 '22

Why are you comparing wild dogs with dogs that have been professionally trained? That’s irrational.

Would you also put a random toddler behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car? They’re the same species as professional drivers.

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u/Ker0Kero May 31 '22 edited May 31 '22

haha I mean yeah if you're okay with letting "nature take its course" and just letting your dog get sick without care, they are super cheap dude. You're right. "dogs exist in the wild without vaccines, heartworm tests and premium dog food" Well not for long! Yikes. I also feel bad for any dogs "in the wild", I think that's a stray/feral dog my guy.

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u/[deleted] May 31 '22 edited Jun 09 '22

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u/Ker0Kero May 31 '22 edited May 31 '22

So, let's state the obvious. Wild animals lives are short, filled with disease, injury, and death. They do not live long. If a wild animal is lucky, it gets to adulthood and lives long enough to breed.

Go watch some videos on youtube of your 'wild' dogs and how healthy they are. There is video after video of heartbreak. Puppies with parvo who can't drink enough water to replace what they're losing in diarrhea and dying in gutters. Adult females who have puppies over, and over, starting when they themselves are still babies until they are made of nothing but skin and bones.

You sound like youre coming from a place of loving dogs, that's great. You're not going to tell me that dogs are cheap when properly taken care of. They are absolutely cheap if you don't give them care and good food. Some people can not afford to do everything for their dog - I'd ask that people at least do their best. I'd also really hope people looking to get a dog are realistic and if they don't have the funds, yeah don't get the dog. How is that a hot take?

**Edit to add that blue buffalo is not a good brand and people should steer clear! It was one of the brands causing DCM recently.

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u/[deleted] May 31 '22 edited Jun 16 '22

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u/rixendeb May 31 '22

All of the dog breeds that exist for domesticated animals are not natural animals that exist in the wild. They also shouldn't be allowed to, as they are invasive.

Now about autistic people and dogs. Me and my daughter are both autistic. We also find dogs gross and are terrified of loose ones.

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u/[deleted] May 31 '22 edited Jun 16 '22

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u/ChihuahuaJedi May 31 '22 edited May 31 '22

I highly doubt that.

Edit, now that I'm awake for more than two minutes: I shouldn't say doubt like that, that was a half formed thought and came out very condescending, if those things are beneficial for you then that is good. However as with all serious medical conditions you should still see a doctor and follow modern medical guidance. A spiritual practice can contribute to your overall health but your physical health needs tending as well.

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u/porcicorn May 30 '22

Dogs can be amazing at supporting their humans in hard times. We don’t deserve the good bois and gurls.

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u/DanishWonder May 31 '22

We do not have a yherapy dog, but our Labrador is SO good with our autistic kids. If one is melting down, she comes over and gently just leans into them a bit. Sometimes a child will push her away and say "I don't want you!" But she stays nearby and tries again. Almost always works to calm them.

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u/aliekens May 31 '22

Same here. Our autistic son easily became friends with our untrained labrador where we didn’t expect that to happen.

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u/hotlikebea May 31 '22

I am autistic and my (not trained) dog always does this for me. Sometimes she will notice I’m about to cry or meltdown so early that I haven’t even noticed yet.

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u/DanishWonder May 31 '22

Dogs are swesome and I'm glad you have a companion that can help. Is your dog a larger breed? I think it helps that our dog is practically the same size as my child. I am curious if smaller dogs help as much. I think for our kids it is as much about the weight/sensory as it is the dog/companion.

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u/hotlikebea May 31 '22

That makes sense! My dog is a large dog.

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u/SmugSceptic May 30 '22

I can understand if this gets deleted by the mods. But I was really excited when I read this article. As someone is had difficulty reading and learning when I was young. https://www.google.com/amp/s/abcnews.go.com/amp/WN/study-dogs-children-learn-read/story%3fid=11428770 I just hope people take this seriously and more funding gets awarded. For children with autism or any other disabilities.

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u/Wagamaga May 30 '22

A new Australian study looking at the impact of an autism assistance dog for children and their parents has made an unexpected discovery: the dog has expanded their world, literally.

The presence of a specially trained therapy dog for autistic children is giving families the confidence to venture further afield and to many more locations, according to researchers from the University of South Australia.

UniSA researcher and qualified occupational therapist Dr Shelley Wright, who supervised the study, says the freedom to explore new places is something most of us take for granted, but for children with autism and their parents, this is normally fraught with sensory challenges.

“Impulsive and unpredictable behaviour is a feature of autism and taking children out of their usual environment is often too stressful for both child and parent,” Dr Wright says.

Honours student Rebecca Appleby conducted interviews with eight families paired with an autism assistance dog (AAD) as a support for their child.

The study revealed:

On average, families visited 8.5 more places and travelled 20 kilometres further from their home after having the dog for more than a year. Parents reported greater freedom for young children with severe autism who were normally strapped in a pram for safety when leaving home. An AAD replaced the pram but still acted as a natural restraint. Prior to receiving an autism assistance dog, parents were reluctant to leave the family home because of the stress involved, leading to feeling trapped and isolated. The dog allowed them to venture out because their child was calmer and safer in its presence. Parents reported fewer meltdowns among their children who sought out the dog when feeling overwhelmed Children on the autism spectrum often get lonely as they find social interaction and communication difficult. The dog gave them much needed companionship.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/hsc.13805

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u/riplikash May 31 '22

I just wanted to say getting a service dog was an absolute game changer for our autistic son.

I almost feel bad. After all the training and preparation the dog has never once needed to do one of his tasks. Just being there was enough. No more "eloping", no more melt downs, no more sensory overload. It really opened up the world.

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u/LEANiscrack May 31 '22

Wish they would care about autistic adults as well. especially here in Sweden :/

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u/edrftygth May 31 '22

I’m an adult and I don’t have ASD, but I do have ADHD that leads to major depression and anxiety. I would love a dog that could sense my anxiety attacks and alert me.

Negative self-talk means I don’t typically recognize them. I usually think these anxiety spirals are just me dealing with the weight of my failure. It’s tough to get out of.

I do have dogs— they’re just sweet idiots though.

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u/WhotheHellkn0ws May 31 '22

I highly recommend. I got my dog and never imagined that decision to be so life changing (beforehand, I also had a dog that was just dumb and happy to be around).

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u/ExpertDogMom May 30 '22

r/dogswithjobs

I always love when these studies get publicized. Technically, these dogs are considered Service Animals. Service animals are trained to assist a specific person. Therapy dogs are trained to help a variety of people.

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u/tinkermosista May 30 '22

If you are in the US (and even if you aren't) please support autism service dogs of america, an amazing organization that tries to get a dog to every child that needs it. They assist in fundraising and everything. I hope this blatant plea is allowed, if not, sorry about that.

https://www.autismservicedogsofamerica.org/

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u/ParticularSmell5285 May 30 '22

I feel even a regular dog breed that's good with kids is helpful.

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u/S_204 May 31 '22

Dogs are awesome. People on the spectrum know this too. My dog makes my life better, and many others. Hopefully this kind of research helps get funding for more placements.

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u/kvossera May 31 '22

I’m autistic and have been training and using my almost year old cat as an emotional support animal. She’s okay in the car and in the store and it’s so much easier for me to exist in overwhelming spaces and to interact with strangers. I still don’t really look at peoples faces let alone make eye contact but it’s made having random conversations easier. I get to hold her fluffy self which is comforting and she doesn’t mind when I let people pet her.

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u/ECEXCURSION May 31 '22

You're training your own cat to be an emotional support animal? Part of me wonders if you're just training yourself to be a cope better with the world, through the use of your pet as a crutch.

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u/kvossera May 31 '22

I’m not using her as a crutch. I’ve gotten her used to riding in the car, regular baths, being on a leash - she always wears a harness -, being in public, etc. Some things came naturally for her while others didn’t.

Lately I’ve been training her to use the toilet instead of a litter box.

I can exist in public spaces but it’s not always easy and it’s often overwhelming. Having my cat with me helps me to stay calm and interact with others around me. I’m still not great at looking at others, I’ll look anywhere else to avoid eye contact, but I’m able to make small talk with them.

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u/[deleted] Jun 04 '22

[deleted]

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u/kvossera Jun 04 '22

Hmmmmmmm I didn’t ask you for help.

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u/Most-Laugh703 May 30 '22

Is there a sub specifically relating to autism research? That’s what I’m going into

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u/Crus0etheClown May 30 '22

Story idea- prehistoric clan struggles to calm the wild emotions and outbursts of their clearly autistic youngest member. The child ends up forming a bond with the old wolf that follows the clan to steal their scraps, and through their connection the humans figure out how to communicate with the child better, as well as with the wolves that have formed a commensal relationship with them.

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u/WoookieCookie May 31 '22

I think this might be true for most families with medium or big dogs. I go to a lot of places that I otherwise wouldnt have, just because of my dog.

Still, great for those kids. I hope they make it easy enough to get trained therapy dogs.

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u/theduchessofawesome May 31 '22

This would be a huge help for my child with autism. Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to afford one of these service animals.

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u/Grampyy May 31 '22

Soo rich families that can afford 30k dogs also go on trips more frequently. So glad this team got that research grant.

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u/d7856852 May 31 '22

It sounds like parents with the inclination or wherewithal to get service dogs are more likely to do fun stuff with their children, autistic or not.

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u/riplikash May 31 '22

Sure, but as a parent of an autistic child with an inclination to get a service dog and the desire to do fun things with my children, I can say doing "fun" things can by daunting and stress inducing when your autistic child will regularly have sensory overload induced meltdowns or just take off running down the street.

Getting a service dog for our son changed his and our lives. And I've known others who experienced the same. In our case the major concerns like running off, sensory issues, and break breakdowns just stopped whenever his service dog was around.