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.
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
Even though you may be aware that Service Dogs can help wheelchair users to be more independent, you may not know be fully aware of what they actually do to help their partners.
Whether your partner assists you during a seizure, detects high or low blood sugar, pulls your wheelchair or performs any other job, learning how to teach a Service Dog to retrieve a beverage from the fridge and training your partner to do so can mitigate many disabilities. The training can be difficult, but with patience, a sense of humor and lots of really good treats, your Service Dog will be retrieving drinks* in no time!