New Research Shows Service Dogs Don’t Just Benefit Individuals with Autism

August 14, 2023

Companion Dogs Provide Strength, Stability and Enhanced Social Functioning for the Entire Family

Researchers affiliated with the University of Arizona recently explored the experiences of caretakers of children with autism who are involved in a service dog program (Canine Companions). Their qualitative study discovered that a service dog’s benefit goes beyond the impacted child and affects the entire family. The research found that service dog placements led to greater social inclusion for families, provided highly individualized intervention for the special needs child, and decreased experiences of judgment and stigma for the entire family while in public. The study identified two primary themes: enhancing social functioning of the family system unit and building strength and stability within family system subunits. Namely, the service dog was found to strengthen and stabilize the family unit by fostering increased family resilience internally. Since dogs are a substantial commitment, the authors suggest that service dog organizations must be forthright about the added burden of service dog-related responsibilities throughout the placement process. They indicate that high standards on the part of provider organizations may minimize negatives for children and their families and would most likely optimize the outcomes for both humans and canines. Overall, this study enriched and expanded the understanding of the impact that service dog intervention provides children with autism and their families, including strengthening interfamilial bonds, impacting the well-being of individual family members, facilitating resilience processes, and increasing social participation for the entire family.

Original Study

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