Service Dogs: Facilitating the Abilities of Children with Intellectual or Behavioral Disabilities
Authors: Yvonne W. Fry-Johnson, Suzanne Powell, and Donnie Kanter Winokur
Abstract: Children with intellectual or behavioral disabilities have numerous challenges in their lives, including navigating their world without injury, developing appropriate interpersonal interactions, and calming of anxiety and fear. This case report is to raise awareness among an audience of individuals focused on the study, care, and management of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities of the availability of service dogs to assist children with diagnoses including, but not limited to, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and autism. We are presenting findings from an informal observation of the first specifically trained service dog for the assistance of a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) affected child. Method: We interviewed a family who has a child with FASD to collect information on the impact of the addition of the specially trained canine. Our target family relayed observations on the behavioral interactions at both the school and home of the child in the six months before receipt of the dog, at the time of receipt and training, and three months post incorporation into the family. We also sought information from various providers of service dogs on their uses of these assistance animals. Result: Perceived improvement in the family’s ability to interact with their child, and the child’s ability to interact with his environment. Conclusion: Service dogs have been shown to help individuals with a multitude of medical and mental health problems. This case report suggests their use be considered for or offered to children with FASD, a spectrum consisting of multiple intellectual and behavioral disabilities. When an intervention like this is available to improve the quality of life of affected children and their families, the model needs to be replicated, and be made available across socioeconomic lines.