You know what your child with autism spectrum disorder needs. Maybe it’s calming during stressful periods. Maybe your child doesn’t relate to others or recognize their emotions. Or maybe your child doesn’t get that others need care, too. With all these things, the family dog can help. And Frisky needn’t be an obedience champ. And you needn’t be a professional dog trainer either.
Check out these tips to see how a little in-home pet therapy might help support your child’s needs and improve the quality of your family life:
Tip #1—Taking care of the family dog can help develop awareness in your child. As the one who provides the basic needs for your pup, your child will acquire a “right here” understanding that someone besides him has needs—and your child can be a positive part of helping to meet these needs.
If your child takes over Frisky’s care, he will also learn things above and beyond Kibbles ‘n Bits®: When to feed the dog teaches the value of routine, how much to feed the dog teaches measurement, and where to feed the dog teaches the appropriate place to eat. Plus, your child gains a sense of control. All these factors encourage nurturing behavior and will deepen the bond between the child and his dog.
Tip #2—Use the family dog to get your child to put down the remote and video games. All dogs need to be exercised, and walking the dog encourages movement and exercise—outside!
Of course, being outside, your child will be approached by neighbors asking about Frisky. Encourage your child to answer the questions, and guide any conversation with strangers so your child has a pleasant experience. When walking the dog becomes routine, your child will meet the same folks and find more opportunity to develop relationships. Meanwhile, your child is getting exercise and liking it.
Tip #3—Making your child the “dog trainer” can be very empowering. When your child teaches commands to the dog in a patient and consistent manner—and the dog obeys—your child will earn a sense of accomplishment and control. Additionally, a lot of communicating happens—and give and take as well!
This sounds so easy because it is. Once you start viewing your dog as a partner in what you’re trying to accomplish for your child, you’ll begin seeing many ways to incorporate Frisky into your child’s daily routine. In turn, Frisky can help sooth your child during meltdowns, improve your child’s sleep routine, encourage interaction, and provide appropriate controls.
If this PAWS-itive approach seems doable for your family, visit PAWSforPeople.org, or call (302) 351-5622 and ask about the class, What Do You Do with the Dog…at Home?
Sun contributor Lynne Robinson is executive director of PAWS for People, whose mission is to lovingly provide elders, children, and folks with disabilities with individualized therapeutic visits with gentle, affectionate pets.
This text was edited for consistency of language and message and appears in the January–March 2015 issue of the Autism Delaware™ quarterly newsletter, The Sun.