We are delighted to feature an article written by Kathleen Carter, a teen living with Asperger’s Syndrome. Kathleen shares the benefits of having Molly, an autism service dog.
After much anticipation, I was able to bring, Molly, my autism service dog home a couple of weeks ago. Molly has already changed my life in many positive ways, so, it’s hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, I had never even heard about autism service dogs.
At the time, I was in middle school and was really struggling. I was having difficulty making friends at school and was being regularly bullied by two of my fellow students. My self-esteem was very low, and the anxiety and stress I was feeling at school were making some of the negative behaviors associated with my Asperger’s even worse.
My mom began researching ways to help me, and she came across autism service dogs. I’ve always liked animals—sometimes it’s easier being around them than people!—so my mom thought this might be a good option for me. She put me on a waiting list with a training organization, and the rest is history!
Today, Molly and I are already great companions. Here are a few other ways she’s benefiting me.
My social skills are improving. Surprisingly, one of the quickest results I noticed was that with Molly by my side, I found it easier to talk with people. They can act as a “social bridge” for their humans, serving as a point of connection so that it’s easier to make conversation with others, and that has definitely been the case for me. In fact, she has already helped me make a new friend at school. One day a curious classmate asked me about Molly. I told her about my Asperger’s and how Molly helps me navigate certain situations. Because I was comfortable talking about Molly, it was much easier for me to connect with my classmate, and we discovered that we have other things in common. We’ve been eating lunch at school together, and I really don’t think it would have happened without Molly.
I feel more independent. Service dogs can help prevent eloping, and while that isn’t a problem for me, I have experienced a similar result. In public, I’ve never felt the urge to runaway, but when I get overwhelmed, I do shutdown. I sort of retreat inside myself, and it’s difficult for me to express what I need in those moments.
For example, before Molly, I found it very difficult to be in a grocery store. Whenever I would go to try and help my mom, the bright lights and crowds of people and carts would be overwhelming to me. Usually, those trips to the store would end with my mom escorting me back to the car so that I could sit in the quiet. But now, I’m actually able to help her out. With Molly by my side, I feel comfortable going and grabbing items on our list. She has really given me a sense of independence!
She keeps me calm.I’m an avid swimmer. And I got into swimming because it’s a great way for kids on the spectrum to decrease stress and take advantage of the water’s soothing qualities. Unfortunately, swimming can’t help keep me calm in every tricky situation…but I’ve discovered that Molly can!
The other day I had a medical appointment at a place I had never been before. The doctor’s office was in a large building with multiple stories. Elevators are next to impossible for me. Even without people, they make me very anxious and uncomfortable, but a crowded elevator can send me into a meltdown. So, usually I take the stairs, but on this particular day, my dad and I were running late, so the elevator was the only option. As my dad and I got on, I could tell that he was just as nervous as I was, but thankfully, Molly sensed our nerves! I kept my hand on her fur the whole time, and at one point she jumped up and put her legs on me to let me know she was there. It wasn’t easy, but it was the most successful elevator ride I’ve ever had!
Service dogs keep children on the autism spectrum safer. Many of the benefits Molly provides me contribute to my mental health, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge how these animals can keep children on the autism spectrum physically safer. I touched on the fact that they can prevent wandering. Sometimes children wake up at night and wander while their parents are sleeping. An autism service dog can help prevent this very dangerous situation by barking to wake up the parents or by circling the child to make it more difficult for them to leave their room, home, etc. So, while I’m certainly grateful that Molly helps me feel more comfortable in the world, I truly love what these dogs do to prevent other kids like me from experiencing physical harm. They are literally life savers!
My time with Molly is just beginning, but it’s already difficult for me to imagine being without her. For any parents considering an autism service dog, I recommend having your child spend some time around regular dogs, first. If they tend to bond well with animals, then I think they’ll see great results with a service dog. Molly as already impacted my life in so many positive ways that I think many other children on the autism spectrum will have great experiences too!
We wish Kathleen the very best and Molly, her autism service dog. Kathleen enjoys writing and proudly educate others about her Asperger’s Syndrome journey. She is grateful for the volunteer opportunity to write for EducatorLabs.
Sites for Additional Resource:
4 Paws For Ability
The Life-Changing Impact of Autism Service Dogs
Stress & Anxiety Reduction | Autism Research Institute
How to Handle the 4 Most Challenging Autism Behaviors
A Parent’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder
National Center for Autism Resources & Education