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Living with Autism


November 26, 2012

Dogs Sensitive to Autism

Award Winning Non-Fiction Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog DirectoryEver since childhood, dogs have been my favorite animal.  And last week, I was reminded why. As I was walking our property with my autistic son, Jamey, the neighbor’s curious chocolate Lab followed along the fence and watched us. Round and round the property we went, and whenever Jamey would pause, start slapping his thighs or hips, the Lab would bark at him, as if saying, “Hey buddy, don’t do that!” Naturally, our dogs became jealous and barked back at her, as if saying, “Back off girlie, that’s our guy!”

Given dogs are so perceptive, wouldn’t it be super if one could train dogs to be self-injurious behavior dogs in the same way there are seizure dogs? Australian Cattle Dogs would be perfect. They’re solid, smart, tough dogs, bred to herd all types of cattle.
Later that afternoon, as we sat on swing for vestibular therapy, Jamey again started slapping his thighs. Suddenly, one of our Cattle Dogs jumped on the swing and began licking Jamey’s thigh, hands and fingers. Immediately, Jamey stopped hitting himself and began petting the dog. Though I watched closely— in fear he might start slapping the dog— Jamey is more sensitive and smarter than he seems. Even when the dog nibbled hard, but playfully on his hands, he only laughed. The dog’s action re-directed Jamey to stop hitting, laugh and get up and begin walking around patio. No doubt, Jamey senses the unconditional love and attention of his dogs. They adore him.
Even assertive dogs we’ve passed on walks over the years have often paused, ceased barking and studied Jamey. I believe dogs see something special in Jamey that is unseen by an untrained human mind and eye. This explains why so many professionals who haven’t spent time with Jamey, never understand who he is or how to help him.  Pretentious people, filled with presumptive thoughts, are incapable of understanding Jamey. Subsequently, they rely on speculation, suspicion and remain stupefied. Not so with dogs. They could care less about impressing anyone with a fancy working title. Nor are they caught up in self-importance. They are there for one reason: “to love and be loved”. Hidden in this simple phrase we also find: friend, companion, loyal, trustworthy, helper, protector and comforter.

According to Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at University of British Colombia, “In the same manner that young humans show empathy and understanding of the emotions of others, so do dogs. Furthermore, we appear to have bred our dogs so that they not only show empathy, but also sympathy, which is a desire to comfort others who might be in emotional distress.” This echoes observations of how little children (Jamey has a special bond with his young niece and nephew) and most dogs react around Jamey, and how Jamey seems consoled by their presence. If only dogs could talk! I wonder what they’d tell us. My guess would be to love Jamey unconditionally. To never give up on him, in the same way dogs expect humans to never give up on them— especially when sick, aging or injured. 

Article on animals helping people with autism:

Kim Oakley


Dave Johnson, DVM said...

The breeds best suited as service dogs are well bred German Shepherds , Labradors, and Golden Retrievers.
I have 2 clients in my own practice with Labradors as service dogs for family members and they are excellent choices. They have extraordinary intelligence, are extremely able and have great dispositions.
Australian Cattle Dogs it must be remembered were originally bred to move reluctant cattle by biting them.
On a personal note, my older brother was blinded in a childhood accident, he had a German Shepherd seeing eye dog who was outstanding.

Kim Oakley said...

Good point!

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