World Autism Awareness Week: Here are 5 ways adorable dogs can help adults and children with autism


Dogs are perfect companions for people with autism.

Dogs have been shown to help people with autism, especially kids, as it helps improve their confidence levels and experience fewer meltdowns.

Here’s how having a loyal and loving four-legged friend can provide great support for both adults and children with autism, according to the pet care experts at Webbox.

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Sensory support

People with autism can struggle a lot with sensory processing. For some, processing different sensory messages can be incredibly overwhelming, which is known as hypersensitivity. Many others experience hyposensitivity, which means that they have an abnormally decreased sensitivity to sensory stimuli. And some of those with autism can experience both of these extremes for different senses.

There are a number of ways to handle difficulty in sensory processing, including by fidgeting, finding a quiet place to relax, or getting the right therapy. But one way to ease the discomfort which you may not have previously considered is to turn to your furry friend for support. Dogs can provide sensory stimulation through games, such as fetch or tug of war. The animals can also be helpful for stimming (self-stimulating behaviour) as they enjoy being touched and played with. For someone looking for repetitive movement, they may find comfort in petting their dog.

A calming influence

It’s relatively common for autistic people to also experience stress and anxiety. In fact, a study by the National Autistic Society and Mind has found that 94 per cent of people with autism experience anxiety, and almost half of these people fall into the severe anxiety category. Autistic people are more likely to experience stress and anxiety for a number of reasons, including sensory processing difficulties and unexpected changes to routines.

It’s important for people with autism to find ways to relax and recharge during particularly stressful moments. The good news is that dogs can help them with this. Research has found that petting dogs even for just 10 minutes can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Pet owners also tend to have lower blood pressure and resting heart rates than the rest of the population, which is great for both mental and physical health.

Provide routine

If you have a dog, you’ll know that they thrive on routine and like predictability, so it’s a good idea to feed them and walk them at the same time each day. Dogs can’t tell the time like humans, so they use our routine to predict what happens next. As well as being a great way to alleviate anxiety in dogs, it can also help them with training too.

Routine is also important for people with autism, which is why dogs can make a great addition to their lives. Having a daily timetable allows autistic people to predict what’s coming next, which alleviates their anxiety and mentally prepares them for the day ahead. So if you or a family member have autism and you have a dog, both will benefit from having a stable routine.

conversation starters

It’s common for neurodivergent people to find making friends challenging. It can be difficult for autistic people to understand body language, facial expressions, and social cues, which can make the thought of finding new friends anxiety-inducing. However, friends are important for all of us, not just for preventing loneliness and isolation, but to help us expand our worldview and consider things from other people’s perspectives.

The good news is that dogs can make it easier for people with autism to make friends. Dogs act as a conversation starter, and having the dog at your side can make you feel calmer and even boost your confidence to help you socialize more. If there is a dog-walking group in the local area, this can be great for autistic people too as they can both make friends in the group and fit it into their daily or weekly routine.

company

There’s a reason that they say “a dog is a man’s best friend.” These animals are loving, loyal, and will always be there for their owners. They don’t talk back, judge, or question why you’re doing something a certain way — they’re just happy to be in your company. When you’ve had a difficult day, or you’re struggling with your human relationships, spending time with your dog can really boost your mood and make you feel less lonely.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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