Assistance dogs (also known as service dogs) are dogs that are specifically trained to help individuals with various types of disability. Their use has now been extended to individuals with autism.
Some assistance dogs (in autism sometimes called autism assistance dogs) are dogs that are specially trained to assist in the day to day life of the family with a child with autism. It is important that the dog is recognised as a 'working dog' and to this end the dog will work in a special harness that connects them to both the parent and the child.
The dogs are trained to lead from the front, acting on instructions from the parent, while the child is encouraged to walk alongside the dog using a lead attached to the dog.
The use of autism assistance dogs is based on the idea that the dogs offer greater independence to the child and parent, whilst ensuring the child is safe if they become stressed or anxious.
Some people think that the dogs may also offer other benefits, such as encouraging the child to communicate and be more sociable and in enhancing the opportunities for the inclusion of the child and family.