by Carmel

What are the benefits of dog therapy for autistic children?


Thank you for an interesting question. Children with Autism tend to have difficulties forming relationships with other people and find it hard or sometimes impossible to pick up on voice pitch and tone or on non-verbal communication.

They tend to relate to direct verbal commands and see situations in a matter-of-fact way and do not pick up on the subtle undertones of a relationship that may be evident to others who are not affected by Autism.

Dogs too (I think!) do not have the capacity to understand abstract situations and like children with Autism, they respond to direct commands and situations that are unambiguous.

Having said that, animals with higher brain functioning can be very perceptive and can sense that people with disabilities are different from others. This is also true of wild dolphins when they are used for dolphin therapy. These dolphins can sense that a disabled child in a group is different from others such as the parents or guides and are drawn towards them.

I have a son Niall who is disabled and cannot communicate verbally. I know that my wife's sister's dog (a large German Shepherd) senses that Niall is different and the dog always licks his hand or face whenever he sees Niall for the first time when Niall visits.

I don't know which breeds are best suited for a child with Autism, but I would guess that those that are usually trained as guide dogs for the blind would probably be fine.

The benefits of dog therapy are that it allows the child to connect with the dog on a basic level without the complications that may exist with a human relationship. The dog obeys his master unconditionally and will return friendship and warmth when cared for by the child. Caring for the dog will also give the child direction and a purpose and also with routine (feeding, grooming, etc) and repetitive tasks (ball throwing, etc), which autistic children tend to need.

Our First Step sensory programmes work to improve body-spatial awareness, balance and co-ordination, touch, sight, hearing, etc. and have proved very effective for children with Autism.

Please contact us if you would like to arrange a consultation for your family member.


Regards, The First Step Therapy Team.

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