Autism Dog

June 30, 2008 9:03:17 AM PDT
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, autism is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as autism spectrum disorders. Researchers estimate that one in every 150 eight-year-old children has some type of autism spectrum disorder. Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communications and unusual, repetitive or severely limited activities and interests. AUTISM RISKS: Recent studies reveal some people have a genetic predisposition to autism. In families with one autistic child, the risk of having a second child with the disorder is approximately one in 20. In some cases, parents and other relatives of an autistic child show mild impairments in social and communication skills or engage in repetitive behaviors. Evidence also suggests that some emotional disorders, such as manic depression, occur more frequently than average in the families of people with autism. Also, males are four-times more likely to have autism than females.

ASPERGER'S SYNDROME: Asperger's syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder. It is milder than autism but shares some of its symptoms. An obsessive interest in a single subject is a major symptom of Asperger's. For instance, some children with Asperger's have become experts on dinosaurs, makes and models of cars, or even objects like vacuum cleaners. Children with Asperger's have trouble reading social cues and recognizing other people's feelings. They may also exhibit strange movements and mannerisms.

A HELPING HAND FROM MAN'S BEST FRIEND: Now, children with autism spectrum disorders have new help, and it comes in the form of a furry friend! Organizations like 4 Paws for Ability match dogs with autistic children. So far, the organization has placed more than 100 autism service dogs. To qualify, children must have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act that can be mitigated by a dog, be able to financially care for the dog and guarantee the animal's safety in their home.

Training the dogs can take up to eight months. The dogs are trained to tether and track a missing child and help children self-regulate their emotions. If a child tries to run away, the dog braces himself so the child cannot get far. The cost depends on what the dog is trained to do, but can range from $13,000 to $26,000.

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