The term “Autism Spectrum Disorders” (ASD) is an umbrella term that includes Autistic disorder (sometimes called infantile Autism or childhood Autism); Asperger’s and Atypical Autism. ASD is one of the most common neuro‐developmental disorders that interfere with the neuro-typical development of the brain. The disorder does not discriminate and can be found throughout the world in all spheres of society.
Although, ASD are almost always present at birth, most parents are unaware that anything is out of the ordinary. Most parents will begin to recognise subtle differences between their child’s development, commonly around 2 to 3 years of age. For parents with children with Asperger’s symptomology becomes more evident at 5 to 6 years of age.
Autism Spectrum Disorders are accompanied by considerable personal suffering, parental burden and community cost.
Individuals with ASD will have varying degrees of impairment from mild to severe. The disorder will affect the way they communicate, their capacity to engage and form social relationships and how they perceive and react to the world they live in. Commonly children with ASD will demonstrate impairment in three core areas, known as the Triad of Impairment. It is important to note that not all children with ASD will behave in the same way and each child will display a different combination and intensity of characteristics.
Children with ASD have difficulty in understanding feelings and the subtle cues that communicate them; a smile, a wink, or a frown can have little or no meaning. This social world is often very bewildering to a child with ASD and they can struggle to form and reciprocate interpersonal relationships, even with their own nuclear family. They may also struggle to cope with the simplest forms of social interactions especially their ability to play and relate to neuro typical children of the same age. Many children with ASD will experience a heightened level of anxiety when interacting with others.
Children with ASD can encounter significant difficulties in their ability to develop, understand and apply all forms of communication both verbal and non‐verbal. Many children with ASD will remain non-verbal.
Children with ASD can profoundly struggle to cope and experience high levels of stress and anxiety with any changes in their immediate environments, routines and surroundings. Even the slightest change in mealtimes, dressing, bath time or changing the way you travel to school can be extremely disturbing and can stimulate an intense and overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety that can often lead to behavioural ‘meltdowns’. Simply put, this disorder can make it difficult for children with ASD to want to relate to the outside world.
Beyond this triad of impairment many children with ASD will also experience an array of behaviour difficulties e.g. restricted interests, repetitive patterns of behaviours may be exhibited like hand flapping, rocking, head banging etc. These repetitive behaviours can take the form of persistent and strong preoccupations. Children with ASD may also experience abnormal sensory responses to light, touch, taste, smell, sound, temperature and pain, and unusual responses to people or attachments to objects. These additional behavioural difficulties can intensify levels of stress, anxiety, confusion and frustration just in wrestling with even the most common everyday stressors of life.
Many children with ASD will have the propensity to wander off or escape from even the most secured environments. Parents may need to install multiple locks on all the doors and windows of the family home. Children with ASD can be masters at common patterns and overtime will identify and memorize locks, enabling them to move beyond safe and supervised thresholds and boundaries. Many children with ASD would not think twice about going on to a busy roadway, nor would they look for oncoming cars. Some children with ASD do don’t understand personal safety, like some strangers may not have their best interests at heart or a body of water is not safe to go into if you can’t swim. It is common of a child with ASD to not respond to someone calling out their name.
One of the most powerful aspects for children with ASD that receive a dog is the companionship of a friend that accepts you for who you are without judgement. A best friend who loves you for you and dogs unlike people are incredibly perceptive, and don’t see difference.
RPA raises and trains Autism Assistance Dogs to do a variety of practical tasks for children with an Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD) and Asperger’s syndrome.
The impact each dog makes on the life of their recipient is priceless, giving recipients a greater level of independence, self esteem and an overall improvement in psychological well-being and quality of life. Each dog costs approximately $29,000 to rear and train over a two year period.
At the completion of this time the dogs are placed with their recipients at no cost.