I am delighted to welcome back to Autism Mom guest blogger Vee Cecil. This last June, Vee contributed a very popular article entitled Wandering Prevention which included suggestions on steps parents can take to reduce wandering and elopement by children on the Autism spectrum.
In 2014 our family began the process of getting a service dog for the Navigator, and a few months into the process we learned the organization we were working with was filing for bankruptcy, and all the work we had done was lost. It was a discouraging emotional set-back.
When Vee suggested writing tips on how to get a service dog, I asked her to include information about the emotional ups and downs that can come with the process. I think she did a terrific job. I especially like the seven steps parents can take to assess a service dog organization that she includes below.
How to Get an Autism Service Dog for Your Child ~ Vee Cecil
More and more research is being conducted showing the immense benefits that therapy dogs can have for children on the autism spectrum.
Indeed, the dogs have a wide variety of payoffs—from helping people in their care to manage sensory issues to keeping them safe to providing emotional support.
They can also help children on the autism spectrum complete daily tasks, such as getting ready for school.
But, though they’re hugely beneficial, the process of getting an autism service dog can be challenging for families. They’re in high demand, often expensive, and the time it takes to get a service dog can be extensive.
Here are a few tips for families seeking a service dog on how to make the process a little easier.
Look for a reputable training organization
The first step to getting an autism service dog is finding an organization that trains dogs specifically to work with children on the autism spectrum. And not all training organizations are created equal so it’s best to do a little vetting before you commit to one.
AutismDailyNewscast.com provides a great seven-step process for determining whether an organization is reputable. For example, to start, you’ll want to make sure it is a member of Assistance Dogs International.
Seek out financial assistance
Any parent who has tried to get a service dog for their child knows that the costs can be substantial. In fact, as this FAQ notes, parents seeking an autism service dog can expect to pay between $9,000 – $25,000 for their dog.
The good news is some organizations offer grants to help families pay for dogs. AutismAssistanceDog.com provides a listing of some of those organizations as well as suggestions on how families can use fundraising to cover the cost of their dog. [Additional fundraising ideas can be found here.]
Or I should say, expect to wait. Once you decide a getting a service dog is right for your child, you won’t be able to come home with a dog that same week. Chances are you’ll be put on a waitlist.
In this article, a mom to a child on the autism spectrum provides a helpful account of the waiting process they went through before getting a dog—they spent two years on a waitlist with one organization without getting a dog and eventually decided to try their luck with a different one. She also notes that the process can take even longer depending on how long it takes you to raise the funds for your dog.
Consider a getting a regular pet
Between the costs and the extensive waiting period, some families may decide getting a service dog simply isn’t right for them. What all families of children on the autism spectrum should know is that studies have shown that many positive benefits can result simply from having a regular pet.
Of course, there are some things a service dog will be trained to do—such as preventing wandering—that a regular pet will not. But as the HuffingtonPost.com notes, research out of the University of Missouri, found that children on the autism spectrum who had a pet at home had better social skills than those who didn’t.
And the pet doesn’t have to be a dog. The study found that any type of pet—dogs, cats, rodents, fish, etc.—led to an improvement in social skills.
There’s no denying that autism service dogs are hugely beneficial to children on the autism spectrum. But navigating the process can take its toll on parents.
When you’re prepared for the obstacles that you might run in to, you can better handle the ups and downs of this difficult, but in the end, rewarding process.
[Click here for a general service dog information resource.]
Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, personal trainer, and bootcamp instructor. She is passionate about studying and sharing her findings in wellness through her recently-launched blog. She lives in Kentucky with her family.
Also published on Medium.