For 10-year-old Josh Myers, the world outside his home is a terrifying place. His severe autism makes unfamiliar situations so distressing that he often refuses to walk, preferring to ride in a youth stroller with a blanket over his head to shut out external stimuli. “We used to have to give him Valium to take him to the doctor’s office,” says his mother, Leslie. “It would allow us to get through doors without him grabbing the jambs.”
The Conventional RX: Josh regularly takes prescription antianxiety medication, and although his neurologist wrote an as-needed prescription for Valium to prevent meltdowns in unfamiliar surroundings, the drug left Josh very lethargic.
The Alternative RX: The Myers family contacted Autism Service Dogs of America (ASDA) in search of a service dog for Josh. The organization trains dogs to help autistic children decrease anxiety and create positive social experiences.
The Outcome: Autistic children typically have difficulty making transitions. With his service dog, Charlie, Josh is able to transition more easily. “Reports from parents are near unanimous about the calming influence and stability that the dog brings to the child,” says Pris Taylor, executive director of ASDA. “In nearly every case, the dog’s presence calms the child down, and some parents say their children have decreased their reliance on medication.”
Josh’s anxiety is more manageable after three years with Charlie, though he still needs anti-anxiety meds at times. “It’s not a cure-all,” says Leslie, “but Charlie acts as Josh’s safety net now. We’re able to go to the doctor, the zoo, the park, use public bathrooms. His quality of life and my peace of mind have increased tremendously.”
Kids with autism experience anxiety as many typical children do, but the way that the anxiety manifests or is expressed looks different based on individual communication and sensory processing skills associated with an autism diagnosis. It is important to approach your child’s anxiety from a multi-faceted approach and consult his therapeutic team to determine the appropriate interventions. For listings of organizations who provide resources regarding service dogs for children visit our resource page.