Many people have heard of guide dogs for the blind, but what is an autism service dog? The principle is the same, in that the dog wears a jacket that allows the person to go into public places.
One of the main purposes of an autism service dog is safety. Many children with autism are runners and safety is a big issue. The child with autism is tethered to the dog and so can only go as far as the tether will let them.
|Logan and Halo|
We had a service dog for our son and it was incredible the freedom that he gave us. I could go for walks with Logan and go to the grocery store with him, and not fear that he was going to take off.
For many children with autism, the dog also provides a comfort factor. I used to take Logan and Halo (our dog) to a men’s breakfast at our church, and even if they were not tethered, Logan would be much calmer if Halo was there.
How can a church help?
One way is to make sure that service dogs are welcome in your building. Public places are required to allow access but that doesn’t stop some places from trying to stop it. We were once asked to leave a store even though we were well within our rights. It is a good idea to have this conversation with your leadership before a family with a service dog shows up.
Another way that churches can help is to find out if there is a local family seeking to get a dog. The dogs are expensive (at the time we got our dog over a decade ago, it was $12,000) and families need to raise their own funds. It would be amazing if churches helped do fund raising for these families.
The final thing is simply to be aware of their purpose and role.
There are many organizations that provide service dogs, but the organization we worked with was National Service Dogs. You can find out more about service dogs at their website.