Special needs

Are dogs a help or a hassle when you have a child with high needs?

Amy wonders if her friend's autistic son will benefit from having a new dog in the house

By Amy Baskin
Are dogs a help or a hassle when you have a child with high needs?

Don’t tell Jemma (my 16-year-old hound/shepherd mix), but I think I’m developing feelings for another dog. Recently I went to one of my "autistic mom" get-togethers. (We don't have autism, but our kids do).

At my friend’s house, her bulldog jumped up on the couch, placed her paw on my leg and leaned into me. Since this canine sweetie-pie is 60 pounds of softness, cuddling with her is like being wrapped in a velvet blanket. After an hour of bulldog snuggling, I felt soothed and relaxed.

That’s exactly the effect this cuddly dog has on my friend’s daughter — especially when she’s upset. That’s hardly surprising, since many kids with autism feel calmer when they experience firm pressure. When Talia was younger, she wore a weighted vest at school when she felt anxious. And at home, she often enjoyed cuddling under a weighted blanket. Having a sweet dog lean on you can feel just as calming. No bones about it.

I do know families who are lucky enough to have therapy dogs — dogs specially trained to help kids with autism feel safe. But, even a regular dog can help our kids feel relaxed and alright with the world. I just have to watch Talia patting and kissing Jemma to know how much they connect. And honestly, I credit Jemma for boosting my own mood and muscle tone. Nothing beats a long doggie walk on a sunny, winter day.

So, dog-owners, I need your advice. A friend of mine is considering getting a dog in order to help her son who has severe autism. (A therapy dog is not available — so it would be a “regular” dog.) She has never owned a dog and knows little about them. Do you think getting a pooch would be a help or a hassle?

Photo by SusanG2 via Flickr

This article was originally published on Feb 10, 2012

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