Hello everyone. I hope Fall is off to a wonderful start for you (quite frankly, I miss summer already).
We are once again delighted to feature an article, written by high school student, Kathleen Carter, a teen living with Asperger’s Syndrome. Today she writes to us about the impact of having an autism support dog on her day to day life with AS. We thank her for allowing us a glimpse into her life and sharing her insight.
A couple of years ago when I was really struggling in middle school, my parents decided to put me on the waiting list with an organization that trains autism service dogs. I was being bullied often, and as a result of the bullying, my self-esteem had plummeted. I no longer liked or wanted to go to school. It had also caused some of my Asperger’s-related symptoms to worsen. For example, when I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I wring my hands. I was wringing them so often at school that when I came home each day my hands ached. The process of getting a dog can be lengthy, but my wait is about to come to an end. I’ll be getting my service dog a couple of weeks after school starts back. While I’ve made a lot of positive changes in my life that have helped me improve my self-esteem, the timing for my dog’s arrival is actually perfect because I’ll get to work with him for a couple of years before it’s time for me to start college, which will be overwhelming, I’m sure! (Photo by Sonja Lovas)
Here are a few reasons why I’m looking forward to working with my autism service dog:
The dog will be a calming presence. As mentioned above, in a couple of years, it will be time for me to start college. It took me a long time to adjust to being in high school so I worry that being on a college campus will simply be too overwhelming for me. As this article from Canine Journal on psychiatric service dogs notes, trained service dogs can help keep you centered in difficult situations. They “provide a focal point when situations become difficult to cope with.” I think having my dog there with me in college will help me get centered when I start feeling overwhelmed.
He will help me manage repetitive motions. My hand-wringing has been a big source of embarrassment for me over the years. The truth is often I don’t even realize when I’m doing it. But back in middle school, there were a couple of bullies in my class who were always quick to point it out. Of course, that usually only made things worse. While this is a habit that I’ve gotten largely under control, I worry that it might creep back in when I start college. As this article on service dog tasks notes, my dog and other service dogs are actually trained to nudge a child on the autism spectrum when they give in to repetitive behaviors. This nudging helps the child recognize what they’re doing so that they can stop.
He will keep me safe. As this article notes, one reason autism service dogs are so valuable is that they can reduce a child on the autism spectrum’s ability to wander. And while wandering isn’t an issue I’ve ever had to deal with, my dog will keep me safe in other ways. For example, he can be my eyes and ears in public situations that I might find overwhelming. When I do feel overwhelmed, it can be difficult for me to figure out what to do to get myself out of the situation. When I’m in reaction mode, I don’t always notice everything in the environment around me. My dog will help calm me down and help lead me through these situations.
He will be a great companion. My service dog will be able to help me in many ways, but one of the most important roles he’ll play is as my companion. Who wouldn’t want to spend their time with a friend who can, as this article from Mental Health Dogs notes, boost self-esteem, improve mood, help in social situations, reduce feelings of loneliness, and so much more!
The wait to get a service dog has been long, but I think he will be well-worth it. While I’ve gotten to spend time with him while he’s been in training, I can’t wait for him to become a more permanent part of my life and a member of my family.
Kathleen Carter enjoys educating her peers and others about AS. Recently, she began writing proudly about how her experiences differ from other people her age. She is so grateful to have the opportunity to write for EducatorLabs.