From the fluffy, to the scaly, to the feathered, many people enjoy having animal companions to share our lives with. Whether it’s competing in canine agility trials, teaching your parrot to sing, or cuddling on the couch with a purring cat, there are many ways that animals enrich our lives.
Not every Autistic person is an animal lover, but many of us are. We come from a long legacy of Autistic animal lovers like Temple Grandin, who revolutionized the livestock industry and wrote books on animal behavior, or Satoshi Tajiri, who was inspired by his childhood special interest in bug collecting and went on to create Pokémon. Many Autistic people form bonds with animals that are unburdened by societal social pressures or expectations of neuroconformity.
There are many ways that animals can improve Autistic people’s lives beyond companionship. Therapy dogs have been used to help children learn to be more comfortable reading and speaking out loud, and p laying with animals can help motor development. Having an animal companion can even improve your health in a number of ways, like defending against allergy development. These are some of the reasons Emotional Support Animals (or ESAs) are becoming more popular. In the last decade, Autism Service Dogs have also been on the rise and growing in use.
What do these things mean? An Emotional Support Animal is any type of animal that provides companionship and emotional comfort to a person with a disability. They are not trained for specific helping behaviors, and cannot be taken out in public. However, ESAs are required by law to be welcome in no-pets housing, or able to live in pet-friendly housing without an additional fee. An ESA can be anything from a lizard to a chinchilla to a Great Dane—whatever helps the disabled person live comfortably. You need a letter from your doctor or provider saying you have a disability and would be helped by an ESA in order to have one in your home.
An Autism Service Dog, on the other hand, is a dog (or in more rare cases, a miniature horse) that is specifically trained to participate in public life with an Autistic individual and is trained to do specific tasks to help them with their autism. Examples of these tasks would be things like leading an Autistic person to an exit if they’re overwhelmed by their environment, responding to a subtle hand cue that an Autistic person wants to leave a situation and making a fuss so their handler has an excuse to step away, or interrupting self-harming stims so the Autistic person doesn’t hurt themself. Many Autism Service Dogs are also trained in DPT, or deep pressure therapy. This is where they put their body weight on specific areas of their handler’s body in order to produce a calming affect (like a living weighted blanket!). Depending on where you live, a service dog may be required to be trained by an accredited organization, or may be allowed to be trained by the handler themself.
If you or a loved one wants to explore whether an animal companion, ESA, or service dog is right for you, or how you can make living with the animal already in your life a more beneficial experience, don’t hesitate to reach out to Autism Personal Coach today! Let our coaches be a sounding board and guide on your animal-loving journey!