Autistic disorder (or "classic" autism), according to the CDC, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that usually involves "significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviours and interests" in people who manifest the disorder. One way to help autistic children develop social skills and reduce "stimming" (self stimulating behaviours--such as spinning, shouting and hitting) is to pair them with a specially trained dog. According to the Autism Assistance Dog website, the ideal breed of dog for the autistic child is the breed that fits your home situation: if allergies are an issue in your home you should choose a hypoallergenic dog; if your child displays violent tendencies and more severe meltdowns, a larger, solid dog is needed.
Labs are a good breed of dog for autistic children due to their even temperament; they are good-natured and friendly. They are peaceful with other animals and responsive to training. Good training is important with these dogs (as with all assistance dogs), however, as they can be rambunctious and full of energy. It is important that the trainer picks a dog that has a calm temperament and is peaceful.
Golden Retrievers have a welcoming bark and a kindly expression, consistent with the breed's cheerful and trustworthy temperament. Retrievers have a robust and solid build--important for children who have violent tendencies. Nineteen-year-old Dale Gardner, as reported by the "Sunday Times," "found faces scary" as a child who suffered from autism and would misread people's facial expressions. When his parents gave him Henry, a golden retriever, his social interactions improved. "Henry had such a calm and friendly face and he never looked angry. I could look at him and it took away the stress of talking to people." Golden retrievers have a lot of energy, however, and must be chosen carefully by breeders and given lots of exercise.
Some dog breeds that are not thought of as typical therapeutic breeds can prove to be quick learners with even temperaments. Poodles are chosen by Autism Service Dogs of America as service dogs, as they are "ideal because of their temperament, ability to train and their love of people," says Pris Taylor, executive director of Autism Service Dogs of America. They are also more hypoallergenic than other breeds, according to the Autism Assistance Dog Blog, making them ideal for owners with allergies.
- CDC: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)
- Autism Assistance Dog: Blog
- Your Purebred Puppy: Labrador Retriever Temperament What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em
- The Sunday Times: Dogs Help Autistic Children Connect
- Pris Taylor; Autism Service Dogs of America; Lake Oswego, OR