Hi! My name is William and I am an Autism Life Dog who works with the children at Elysium’s Rhodes Wood service. I’m going to share with you how I support children with autism and the types of activities I do with them.
I’m much more than just a buddy to the children at Rhodes Wood, I have been specially trained by the lovely team at Autism Life Dogs to give children with autism support to develop skills in areas such as; speech and language, social interaction, regulate sensory issues and help with anxiety and much more. I love it when I can see the children making progress.
As you can see from my picture I am a handsome looking Labrador! Us Labradors (oh- and Golden Retrievers!) are not only a highly intelligent, hardworking breed, but enjoy training and love having a human companion so we make great therapy dogs, so we’re not just a pretty face!
Now here’s some science for you….. Labradors and Retrievers are unique as we have high levels of the hormone oxytocin which promotes bonding and social interaction, something children with autism are born with low levels of. By interacting with us a child gets a hormone ‘kick’ which helps them with communication, feeling more calm and increased social interaction.
As an Autism Life Dog I have been trained in therapy programmes and activities that include; Sensory integration, speech & language, physical therapy, positive behaviour therapy and play therapy.
There are two main types of therapy; Learning & Alerting Games such as telling the time, literacy and numeracy, and also Calming Interventions, this where I use my training to help calm a child either before or after a period of distress, or by offering emotional support to them.
One of the exercises I do as part of sensory integration therapy is Squish which offers proprioceptive input (sounds fancy doesn’t it?!). Squish involves me lying across a child while they are sat down to relax them if they are distressed and reduce their anxiety. The weight of my body has the same effect as a weighted blanket or jacket.
I’m trained to respond to both verbal and gestural cues so that I am able to communicate with children that are selective mute or non-verbal. I’m also trained in Makaton so that non-verbal children can interact with easily. In the Speech and Language exercises I do with the children we do lots of activities that promote turn taking and sequencing as these are some of the things that children with autism find difficult.
Now every dog loves a treat and I’m no exception, so Balance Treat is one of my favourite Physical Therapy activities! Balance Treat involves the child standing on a balance board and treats are placed all around the balance board. The aim is for the child to bend down, pick up a treat and throw it for me to catch! The balance treat game works on; balance and coordination, core stability, motor planning, fine and gross motor skills and spatial planning.
An important exercise I do is Positive Behaviour Therapy. This type of therapy enables a child to communicate their emotions or feelings through me or to me. The great thing about this therapy is that it promotes boundaries, consistencies and helps the child to understand they can reflect positive behaviour from us as dogs.
Road Safety is part of the Positive Behaviour Therapy exercises I do, so I show the child how to cross the road safely and I respond to certain command words. This is an example of how I help the child to understand they can reflect positive behaviour.
Another therapy programme we are trained in is Play Therapy. Play Therapy provides opportunities for the child to engage in cooperative and interactive play. This is why all of the games I do with children work on turn taking sequences. Everyone loves to play so making therapy fun is really important.
It’s really nice when I hear that parents tell us that having an Autism Life Dog reduces their child bolting when out in the community, and that they notice a reduction in their child’s anxiety, aggressive outbursts and challenging behaviour. I love what I do and these positive stories make my tail wag with pride!
To learn more about Autism Life and other dogs like me, click here! https://bit.ly/2pIWtK2