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April 2019

  /    /  April

Autism Service Dogs and Sensory Processing Disorder Dogs change the lives of the families they work for. Like all Service Dog teams, every Autism Dog team is unique, since everyone has differing needs. However, some tasks occur more frequently than others. Learn more about some of the most common Autism Service Dog tasks now. Common Autism Service Dog Tasks Contact / Sensory Based Autism Service Dog Tasks Assistance With Meltdowns / Overstimulation Meltdowns commonly occur when a child with autism cannot process the amount of stimulation they're receiving. They take many forms, but often result in tears, struggles, and other signs of distress. They are not tantrums. In addition to overstimulation, autism meltdowns can also happen when a child or adult with autism is unable to communicate needs, wants, or emotions. A trained Autism Service Dog assists with meltdowns by serving as a calming and grounding point of contact, somewhat like an anchor. They do so via several means, including deep pressure stimulation, kinetic engagement, and tactile grounding, all of which are covered later in this article. Repetitive Behavior / Stimming Interruption Some people with autism use repetitive motions or behaviors, collectively called "stimming," to self soothe or to express excitement or intense emotions. Stimming takes many forms, but commonly involves hand flapping, rocking, or similar movements. An Autism Service Dog can be trained to interrupt stimming while also providing another avenue for engagement. Deep Pressure Stimulation Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS), Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), and Deep Touch Pressure Therapy (DTP) are all names for the same thing -- a type of firm tactile contact used to calm and soothe central nervous system overstimulation. It can take many forms, including weighted blankets, swaddling, firm stroking or hugs, compression, or the furry weight of a large breed Service Dog. Many Autism Dogs provide deep pressure stimulation as a trained task. This helps soothe (or, for some people, even prevent) meltdowns, provide tactile grounding, and provides more dignity for the child or adult with autism than many alternative methods of DPS. Kinetic Engagement Many people with autism actively seek out certain types of sensory input, particularly of a kind they find comforting or soothing. An Autism Dog provides multiple outlets for kinetic engagement, either via direct or indirect means. Direct means include (gentle) fiddling with ears, fur, paws, etc. Indirect means include grooming or playing with equipment. It's important to remember that in order to be a Service Dog task, a behavior must be trained

When it comes to Service Dog tasks, there is a lot of confusion over what constitutes a real, specifically trained task and which are only perceived tasks, fueled by emotion and wishful thinking. From Service Dog handlers to trainers to medical doctors to veterinarians alike, there is historically a lot of confusion surrounding this topic.

Julia is an adorable 4-year-old muppet with autism. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Sesame Street wants everyone to meet her family! They hope to showcase and celebrate the everyday realities special needs families often face. Julia first debuted in April 2017. Since then, she has appeared regularly in many episodes. Julia’s Muppeteer, Stacey Gordon, has a child with autism. This helps her portray Julia accurately and with sensitivity. Additionally, “Sesame Street” also invites input from the autism community at large so they can more aptly include both the struggles and successes common to those facing either autism or another sensory processing disorder. Sesame Street works hard to show the things Julia has in common with all children, while also acknowledging and explaining some of the difficulties. Specifically, this month, they expanded Julia's world to include her family. By introducing us to her parents, brother, and Rose, we get a peek into Julia's everyday routines. Dana Stevens, director of the Northwest Autism Center, notes that Rose serves as a companion dog and friend for Julia, not a Service Dog. She further explains that the Autism community regularly uses Service Dogs of various types. However, Julia's family views Rose as both a beloved family friend and a helper. Get to know Julia's family by watching the new Sesame Street song "I Love My Family." Additional resources concerning autism can be found for both parents and children at the "Sesame Street and Autism" website.