Interacting with people has never been easy for me. Unless I’m talking about a topic of great interest to me, I find it difficult to keep a conversation going. As my anxiety builds, I start to panic, which usually ends in me completely shutting down and ending the talk or saying something that further alienates my conversation partner.
Because of this, making friends with people has never been easy for me, and it has resulted in many lonely days both during and after school. I’m happy to report that — through my work with an occupational therapist and by getting involved in extracurricular activities — high school has been a much happier time for me. But I don’t know how I would have gotten through elementary school and middle school without the great dogs my family has as pets.
Stanley is a mixed breed that we got from a shelter when I was 6, and Bart is a boxer mix that we got when I was 10. They’re both my steadfast companions, and they have helped me in so many ways. In fact, it isn’t at all uncommon for dogs and other pets to have positive effects in helping kids manage their Asperger’s.
Here are a few ways that being around my family’s dogs has helped me.
They provide all-around support.
There were many, many days when I would come home from school frustrated, embarrassed, and upset that I couldn’t seem to connect with the other kids in my class. On every single one of those days, Stanley and Bart were there to comfort me, and being with them always made me feel better. As this article on the benefits of autism service dogs notes, they truly do provide “life-changing physical, intellectual, and emotional support.”
They are a calming influence.
Meltdowns as the result of over-stimulation are common among kids with Asperger’s. Especially when I was younger, this was a problem for me. Typically, what would happen is that I’d be able to hold it together to get myself through the school day, but by the time I got home, I’d be so stressed and angry that I would blow up at the slightest little thing.
While I know that my parents became frustrated with me at times, never once did Stanley or Bart seem to judge me. And often it was petting and being near them that would help me calm down. I’m certainly not the only person with Asperger’s who seems to get a benefit from being around dogs. This article relates how one boy with Asperger’s receives a calming influence from his service dog.
They help improve social skills.
As I touched on earlier, I do not have great social skills. However, for kids on the autism spectrum, dogs can help us improve those skills. It’s been suggested that dogs, and especially service dogs, help kids overcome that “social isolation” by serving as an “ice-breaker.” I can vouch that this is true. While I haven’t worked with a service dog yet, I know that my dogs help me make conversation with neighbors when I take them for walks around the neighborhood.
Stanley and Bart have given me an immense amount of love over the years; and, as I prepare for college, I’m excited to report that I’m going to begin working with an autism service dog that will help me during this big life transition and beyond. If you or someone you know is on the autism spectrum, I highly recommend looking into how a family dog or a service dog might be able to help.
Allie Gleason, a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome, is part high school student, part volunteer-intern-extraordinaire at EducatorLabs, part cheerleader for all those affected by ASD. Writing has become a huge outlet for her. She’s thankful that you took the time to read her article!