Dogs and Autism—A Magical Pairing

“Dogs can read?” My friend Christine, who thinks of me as an expert on all-things-dog (I’m not!), asked me recently about a sign she’d seen outside our local library promoting “reading to dogs.”

Of course, dogs cannot read—but they do enjoy being read to. And for kids with difficulty in a traditional classroom setting and who are struggling with their reading skills, reading to a dog has been found to be tremendously beneficial. Particularly for kids on the autism spectrum. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published an article in 2019 that reviewed a study on this topic and concluded, “Based on these results, we can conclude that reading to a dog can have positive effects on an ASD [autism spectrum disorder] child’s motivation and attitude toward reading.”

And so, I am delighted to share with you the thoughts of Janet Lintala, a recognized expert on autism—and an autism mom—on the “magical pairing” of dogs with kids and adults on the spectrum.  Thanks, Janet, for being a guest writer for the Dogs Are Amazing blog.

Dogs and Autism—A Magical Pairing
by Janet Lintala

Child reading a book with a dog

Some things just go perfectly together, like macaroni and cheese. I’m not sure when dogs and autism starting going together, but it’s a beautiful alliance of harmony and good vibrations, a meeting of minds that brings calmness and confidence.

Every day is a celebration of autism awareness in my world, and so I welcome the designation of April as a worldwide monthlong observation of autism awareness and acceptance. And, with Dog Therapy Appreciation Day falling on April 11, this seems like the perfect time to talk about the wonderful role dogs can play in the lives of kids (and adults) on the spectrum.

Woman reading a book with a dog looking on

Dogs are man’s oldest companion, sharing a mutual fondness that is many centuries old. What is the magic that draws us together? Perhaps author and chef Bill Buford put it best when he said, “It is in those eyebrows and in the way dogs have of tilting their heads. They are warm packages of emotions.”

Now add that warm package of emotions to autism and the true magic begins.

teenager with dog

Autistic children and adults can connect and cope better with the world in the company of a good companion dog. These waggy-tailed angels can help with everything from reducing sensory overload and meltdowns, overcoming fear, stopping self-harming behaviors, and teaching responsibility, to providing the best friend they never had. All of which really reduces stress for autism parents, too. We just want our children to be happy and to have a better day.

An autistic child may have trouble connecting with the world, but studies reveal what many autism parents already know: having a dog can improve social skills and independence. A dog can open up the world for an autistic child or adult, creating a safe place from which to explore and grow.

child and dog

My patients tell me they feel less anxious and have the courage to navigate trips out of the house for shopping, medical appointments, lunch, or just to run errands. I’ve heard it described that it’s as if the dog provides a protective bubble or an oasis of calm in an overwhelming world. The autistic child or adult feels confident and anxiety-free in the glow of that protective bubble.

Dog reading a book

Having a dog can provide the motivation for a daily walk, combining exercise, fresh air, and social opportunities all in one. That’s something we all benefit from, but particularly those on the spectrum for whom getting out in public has been a daunting challenge.

Best of all, studies are backing up parents’ observations that autistic children with dogs have more social skills than those who don’t have a dog.

After all they do for us, what do dogs get out this relationship with mankind? Why did they adopt us? All they ask for is a little love and time and attention. We autism parents know our beautiful children are brimming with all of those in abundance. Long live man’s best friend!

This week’s blog is from Janet Lintala, DC, a nationally and internationally respected clinician in the field of autism. Janet and I met at a conference for writers in Boston many years ago, where we struck up a friendship over books, writing, and other common interests. It has been a joy watching Janet’s career as a writer grow and bloom.   

Thanks, Janet, for sharing your thoughts with us about how kids and adults on the spectrum can benefit from the presence of dogs in their lives. It’s a fitting topic for April as we observe worldwide Autism Awareness Month, and Dog Therapy Appreciation Day on April 11.

Martha

Martha 

PS
Interested in being a guest-blogger? Contact me.  

Janet Lintala, DC is an autism mother, author, and clinician and has been immersed in the world of autism, both personally and professionally, for over twenty years.

Dr. Lintala volunteers her time at Autism Health, supporting vibrant health for children and adults on the autism spectrum. Learn more at LoveAutismHealth.com

She is the founder and President of The Un-Prescription Foundation for Autism, Inc., and is the author of, The Un-Prescription for Autism, which is in print in three languages. You can learn more about Janet as well as the many awards her book has received on her Amazon author page.

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