The more I read about strategies to help a child with Aspergers the more the idea of getting a dog kept popping up in my mind.
My son was struggling at the age of 6 years to make sense of his world, process information and interact and communicate with others in an appropriate way. Some of the things that my son would say seemed quite thoughtless and he seemed to show no empathy towards others. He is a bright boy and very intelligent but this would create a huge amount of pressure when trying to fit in with his peers and relate to them, causing him to experience high levels of social anxiety.
In the hope for us to help with our child’s feelings, I thought that possibly a dog would be the answer, he could learn to love, learn to make someone happy and feel that love back.
I was also concerned about his gaming obsession and the more I thought about getting a dog to walk out and about would mean that I could persuade my son to step away from his console for some fresh air.
My husband was not keen on the idea, we enjoyed going on holidays spending random weekends jumping in the car and getting away so a dog would be a huge commitment.
A dog was a big decision and after months of persuasion, we managed to get my husband to say yes and finally get a dog!
In 2016 we went to collect our golden doodle, Connie is her name. We decided to choose the breed due to my husband having asthma so the poodle would cause less shedding, the retriever side of her was a gentle approach.
There have been positives that I would like to share with anyone that has a child with similar needs as my son:
Communication – Our son learnt the subtle cues that Connie gave to him to indicate her feelings. My son would later be able to apply this lesson to human interaction.
Confidence – Being not understood for years, coming home from his mainstream setting each day, made to feel not accepted for just being himself. You could guarantee that a waggy-tailed dog would be waiting for him each day, delighted to see him! Dogs give children the sense of unconditional acceptance and never judge.
Empathy – My son would wonder how our dog was feeling, We would see him caring for her in a way that he has never shown care before. Our boy has so many sensory issues getting a kiss from him would be a miracle, but my son will happily kiss our dog even her sloppy wet nose! Saying I am jealous is an understatement … ha ha! His empathy with having a dog was brought on so much.
My son does not go on as many dog walks as I was hoping. However, we have managed mountain climbs in the Dales and many walks around the beautiful scenic views that Yorkshire has to offer. If it was not for the dog he would not of accomplished this.
The only way I can manage to cut my son’s toenails and fingernails is if our dog is sat beside him and he is snuggled into her otherwise there is no way I am going to get close. The dog somehow reassures him that it is all ok.
In a meltdown, if no one can calm him down he turns to the dog he cuddles her and receives the feeling of being felt safe. This brings him back to a sense of calm just after one cuddle.
It is a really big decision to make, puppies are from easy, in my eyes, our puppy just brought back memories of having a newborn in the house. She was nipping at first with her little sharp teeth, puppies will do this and need time and training. She started to nip quite a lot at our son and he saw this as a sign of the puppy not liking him and had quite the opposite effect. Even after a long chat to explain that puppies do this she will stop but we have to train her it took a while for my son to re-bond again, as he grew scared of her.
The dog walking has worn off and I am lucky if my son comes out twice a month with me, the novelty has disappeared and I myself now have the responsibility of running a hectic lifestyle and looking after the dog.
When getting a dog you must take into account that you may be the one walking the dog on your own as the child may refuse eventually to walk her, I spend every day walking the woods on my own she is my responsibility.
Think carefully is all I will say as the child may have an interest in your dog 40% of the time but the full responsibility will be you.
Having a dog from my perspective is wonderful we get the best of both worlds from her, she helps my son when he needs someone the most. For me, it gets me out and I have time to think and cover some miles talking over strategies/EHCPs/PDA in my head. The fresh air for a SEN parent and that time is valuable, I think if I did not have her I would not force myself to make that time for me and possibly my PDA child would take every last minute.
From our point of view, my honest words would be to not get a dog purely just for your child, what happens when your child becomes bored with it? Your child is a child and not responsible.
You are responsible for the dog from day one, please don’t just get a dog and then hand it back to rescue. You must have time for the dog. You, as the adult.
I am lucky I work from home so I am around a lot, I have a dog walker once a week who gives me a break for some me time! Our Connie is the most loved dog, she makes us all smile and laugh and she has certainly helped our son have a companion for life probably his one and only best friend that has stuck by him through bad days and good.