Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder and Assistance Dogs

Updated on May 30, 2020
viking305 profile image

L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many articles. She has autism spectrum disorder—on the high functioning end of the spectrum.

With the child secured to the service dog by a lead attached at their waist, parents can be more confident that their child won't run into harms way.
With the child secured to the service dog by a lead attached at their waist, parents can be more confident that their child won't run into harms way. | Source

Service Dogs for Children with Autism

Many countries, including America, Canada, UK, and Australia have organisations that train and provide assistance dogs for children with autism. In this article, I will focus on service dogs in Ireland, discussing their benefits for children with autism, who qualifies for an assistance dog, and how much it costs to train them.

Assistance Dogs for Children in Ireland

Although support is growing for families in Ireland with children with autism or Asperger's syndrome, more support is still needed. There are many programmes raising awareness and funds, but the waiting list for these assistance dogs continues to grow rapidly.

In 2004, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind started a pilot programme in which eight families with autistic children were given specially trained dogs for a year. These dogs were trained to the same standard as dogs for the blind. Seeing the remarkable improvement in the lives of the children and their families, the organisation decided to create a new branch of assistance dogs for autistic children.

In 2006, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind announced the launch of a programme to assist children with autism and their families: Assistance Dogs for Families of Children With Autism.

What Are the Qualifications to Get an Assistance Dog?

The autistic child is accepted on the programme as long as they are less than eight years old. Extensive training is also given to the parents. When out both the parent and the autistic child have a lead on the dog. The dog is trained to respond to both the autistic child and the parent.

What Are the Benefits of Having an Assistance Dog?

They Provide Companionship and Inspire Confidence

In public—especially in new surroundings or crowded places—an autistic child can easily be overwhelmed and stressed by all the activity around them. An assistance dog can act as the child's companion and guardian, calming the child and boosting their confidence. I've had a mother of a 4-year-old autistic child tell how he has changed since he was paired with an assistance dog. "He would sit and scream and have a tantrum. He looks adorable, and people could never understand. I was forever being reprimanded for my naughty and out-of-control child. It was really stressful for both of us."

Now, her child can go anywhere without incident as he is very content to stay beside his dog quietly and calmly. He is calm because he feels safe with his dog; he is used to having it by his side. So when he is out in unfamiliar and stressful situations, he can stay close to his dog and feel safe with the one constant in his life. The rest of the noise and activity around him is blocked out. Another example of where this might be beneficial is in school. The calming effect can allow the child to better concentrate on their schoolwork.

Of course, having an assistance dog is not a substitute for medication. But in some instances, they can greatly reduce the need or reliance on anti-anxiety medication.

They Act as the Child's Guardian

Aside from providing companionship, assistance dogs can help autistic children by watching over them. One of the most common problems parents of autistic children run into is having to react quickly when their child suddenly runs off. With an assistance dog, the child has hold of the dog's lead, but the dog also has hold of the child's "lead." The dog can be trained to sit down when the child runs off, using its weight and strength to restrain the child. This removes some of the pressure and worry from parents who are afraid they may not react quickly enough when their child runs into danger.

They Signal to Strangers of the Child's Special Circumstance

Another less-obvious benefit is that it sends a clear sign to strangers that the child may not behave according to societal norms. The occasional outbursts and tantrums can draw the disapproving stares of onlookers. Having an assistance dog allows the parent to concentrate on calming their child rather than trying to explain to strangers why their child is behaving the way they are. In fact, the opposite usually happens. People will often approach the autistic child and parent and chat about the reason for the dog and the child’s condition.

More About Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind

Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind was founded in 1976. It provides its services free of charge. The cost for providing one guide dog is €35,000, which covers the breeding, training and aftercare that is needed. The Irish Government only provides €7,000 of this amount. The remainder, €28,000, is provided by public donations.

International Guide Dog Federation

The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind is a member of both the International Guide Dog Federation and Assistance Dogs Europe. The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind announced in 2010 that due to government cutbacks, they will have to decline many autistic children and their families who were waiting for an assistance dog that year.

They needed €1.5 million to train another forty dogs but had only received €150,000. Instead, only four dogs could be trained that year. Since the Service Dogs for Autistic Children came into being in 2006, one hundred autistic children have received dogs. Unfortunately, there are well over another hundred families on the waiting list.

How You Can Help

The training of these dogs is very expensive, but the benefits are enormous and keep on giving. It is time for people around the world to put pressure on their governments provide more funding for these programs. That way, each child that needs a dog to make their life better can have that chance—as is their right. There are links to support services for families of children with autism and Asperger's syndrome:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      20 months ago from Ireland

      Hello Tim, thanks. Yes Service dogs are making a huge positive difference for children and their families who have autism. These dogs are amazing and I just wish the government here would fund the training too. That way more families could reap the benefits.

    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      21 months ago from U.S.A.

      Excellent article. It's great to learn this is happening in Ireland.

      Service dogs could mean the difference between life and death for many people with disabilities, including those with autism.

      I enjoyed your article. It was interesting and filled with important information about what is going on in Ireland for people who must deal with autism.

      Much respect and admiration,


    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      2 years ago from Ireland

      Hello Nell, yes the dogs can really make such a big difference to the child and their families too.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      2 years ago from England

      What an awesome article! and I loved the video too! isn't it amazing how dogs can help people like this? wonderful!

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      5 years ago from Ireland

      Yes Nanc that would be good idea. I read it does the prisoners who are training the dogs good as well

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I think it would be great to have the pups in prison program train dog's for the children with autism and other special needs.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Kim, it would depend what country you are in. I have given links to the major organisations for assistant dogs at the right hand corner at the top of this article for a few countries.

      The best thing to do would to contact the relevant website and email them.

      Hello Marie I will have a look for that eBook, it looks interesting

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I would like to know how I can become certified to train dogs for children with autism.... Any suggestions or info would be appreciated

    • profile image

      Marie-Claude Roy 

      8 years ago

      Great news!

      "Canine Angels" is now available in e-book.

      Take a look at:

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Yes using trained dogs to help children with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome is very successful all over the world.

      But like everything else in this world there are not enough of them because of the shortage of money.

      Mrs Collins in Australia. Good luck with your new assistance dog for your son I am sure it will help him a lot.

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.

    • calico Stark profile image

      calico Stark 

      8 years ago from Earth for the time being

      I can see how these dogs make a difference in many ways! I have considered getting one for my autistic son but the insurance you must keep on one is way too much! Great hub! Vote up!

    • hubber088 profile image


      8 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Dogs can be so beneficial to people in so many ways. What a blessing!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      We are getting an autism assistant dog for our ASD son on feb. from the best place we found in Australia, called SMART PUPS based in queensland, they did training with 4 paws in the US also, have been the best to deal with, and we just can't wait, interesting Hub thanks.

    • HomerMCho profile image


      8 years ago

      Great and very useful hub for autistic children. Never thought how dogs can help autistic young ones.Thanks for this great info.

    • catsimmons profile image

      Catherine Simmons 

      8 years ago from Mission BC Canada

      This is a great hub! Voted up.

      My partner has severe anxiety and PTSD and he has a dog that he has trained himself to support him.

      Often, just knowing that you have a fours legged pal who unconditionally loves you can relieve a lot of insecurities and diffuse tension :-)

    • ladyt11 profile image


      9 years ago

      This is very interesting! I have and autistic teenage daughter and I wonder if this will help her as far as crossing the street, being safe and feeling secure. I wish as you said viking305 that these dogs were available in all countries and just as popular as seeing eye dogs as well as dogs for epilepsy. Great article and very useful, I'm going to look into this!

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      9 years ago from Ireland

      Thank you all for reading the article and your comments. It is a shame that these dogs are not available in all countries and to all people who need them. It is unfortunatley down to money.

      With more publicity about Assistance Dogs for autistic children I hope fundraising will becaome easier for those that need it.

    • profile image

      CarolAnn Edscorn 

      9 years ago

      I am an adult diagnosed at 41 in 1995 with Asperger's Syndrome. Almost 4 years ago I was given a dog and with help from friends I trained him. You are right. I travel around the USA presenting on autism and Shakespeare travels with me, allowing me to feel stable and safe--even in O'Hare and LAX! Shakespeare recognizes sign language and words in English, Spanish, German & Italian, as when I lose words I never know what will come out of my mouth. It is not only children who can benefit from a trained, socialized dog! THANK YOU. Comprehensive and insightful article. CarolAnn - Autieheart

    • Kelly347 profile image


      9 years ago

      What a fantastic idea!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      We are currently on a waitlist for a dog by "Autism Dog Services". Yes Ingenira it is a lot of money, but if you are dedicated you can do it. Our dog cost's $18,000.00 we fundraised about $6,000 doing a benefit dance and silent auction. We also recived a grant for $9,000.00 so we are only $2000 away from our goal!! Currently selling sweatshirts as a fundraiser. It is a lot of money, but it is very possible:)

    • Ingenira profile image


      9 years ago

      This is indeed a very helpful program to the parent with the autistic child. However, the cost of a dog is simply too high to be affordable.

    • Juliette Morgan profile image

      Juliette Morgan 

      9 years ago

      This is a wonderful programme and not surprising as it is a proven fact that just stroking a dog or cat can calm a person. Thanks for sharing.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      9 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for reading the article Jay. Yes everything costs money and the Government would rather spend billions of euro on bailing out the banks than giving funding to this fantastic programme of Assistance Dogs for Families of Children with Autism across Ireland.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      It does make a difference that 'there are no clear physical traits of autism'. I'm sure it is stressful enough for families to deal with the manifestations of anxiety in their child without having to deal with the uninformed disaproval of strangers. Its shameful that the Government is not supporting this programme. I love the video's. Very informative piece.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for your comment BJ. Yes I agree with you, dogs are very helpful when trained and always give back the love shown to them ten fold. I believe it is such a great blessing for the autistic children that they are now able to feel secure and happier with the help of these assistance dogs. Who ever came up with the original idea is truly inpirational.

    • BJBenson profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      I think dogs are great. They help with so many things and all they want is love from us.

      I am a cat person but even I know the value of a good dog.

      Well done on this hub of information.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for reading Gaelic Angel and your comment. Yes it makes such a wonderful difference to so many children and their families that the lack of funding is very sad.

      Read there during the week that a Piccasso painting was sold for $106 million. The world sure is a very cruel and unjust place as far as distribution of money is concerned.

    • Garlic Angel profile image


      10 years ago from Dublin

      Great hub lots of great information on it.. Dog is a mans best friend as they say...

      Mabye this hub will generate enough information and some funding may come of it so that even one more child can be helped...

      Great hub like I said and look forward to your next one...

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for your comment. The connection between the child and the dog is magical. A whole new SAFER world opens up for the child. Feeling in control and safe is the first step that allows the child to participate in the world around them.

      But as with everything in this world it comes down to money. Here in Ireand the funding has been cut so a lot of children will remain locked up in their own frightening world.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      10 years ago from France

      Welcome to the HubMob! This is a very interesting hub. I have seen dogs for the blind and even heard about a program using dogs for people with epilepsy (the dogs sense when an epileptic attack is going to happen and can can warn the user before it happens). But this is the first time I see dogs used to help autistic children. Thank you for an interesting read!


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