Autism Spectrum Disorder is a prevalent condition among American children, and one the health system only recently got its head around. Currently, 1 in 68 children in the U.S. suffer from autism, a number that has grown steadily since cases started being tracked in 2000. However, researchers believe that the reason autism seems to be increasing is that we are still coming to grips with the condition, as diagnostics today benefit from much more refined criteria and potential symptoms. Essentially, it means there isn’t a rise in autism per se, but the way we look at and treat autism is adapting and changing every year. This expands to the concept of an emotional support animal, or ESA for short.
One of the progressive new treatments offered to those suffering from a wide variety of mental health issues, an ESA is a pet that gives comfort and reassurance to its owner (or patient), providing relief from the most aggressive mental health symptoms. ESAs are useful in the fight against depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and of course, autism, conditions that affect millions of Americans year to year. Emotional support animals don’t receive any training for their role, and can be existing pets that are designated with ESA status; the most important factor is that they provide a sense of comfort to their owners.
ESAs can be prescribed by any registered healthcare professional; the important document when it comes to ESAs is known as an emotional support animal letter, or ESA letter. You can see if you’re eligible for one in person with your doctor, or use an online health service to prescribe you one. This simple document allows the mentally disabled, and by extension their ESAs, to avail of certain rights and privileges granted by federal law. An emotional support animal is free to travel with their owner in the cabin of an airplane and they can also live with their owners in rented accommodation.
This makes ESAs a great choice for children who suffer from autism. But as an emotional support animal can take any form, the first question you might find yourself asking is: what kind of ESA would best suit my child? The choice is yours; anything that provides comfort and reassurance to your autistic child is suitable to be an emotional support animal. Having said that, there are some species that are more suited than others; however cool an emotional support snake might be, it’s not necessarily the best choice in terms of practicality!
Following the trend of pets, a dog is far and away the most popular choice of ESA. And with good reason too: an emotional support dog can be effective across a broad range of illnesses, providing a spectrum of benefits to those suffering. Dogs are also the best choice for autism. The main reasoning behind this is that dogs are switched on emotionally to their owner’s moods. They can sense when their owners are in distress, and if they’ve formed a strong bond together, will usually react accordingly.
The trick is to form this bond in the first place. The good news is that an ESA doesn’t have to be a brand-new addition; it can be an existing pet that is upgraded to ESA status. Many families with autistic children already own a pet. It’s not unusual for the child in question to have formed a special bond with the pet, particularly if it’s a dog. You can keep this bond going by acquiring ESA rights for your family pet, and nothing at all needs to change; you and your child will simply gain the benefits of having an emotional support dog as opposed to a regular pet.
If you’re acquiring a dog that’s new to the family, it can be a good idea to go for a large breed. Large breeds of dogs usually feature calm temperaments, and are more attuned to their owner’s moods. A large emotional support dog can be a grounding presence for an autistic child during an episode, and it’s not uncommon for dogs to quickly grasp the situation, remaining by the side of the child and offering support and comfort. Generally, the bigger the dog, the more it is seen as a secure presence by the child, and they’ll respond accordingly. Your child will also be more secure outside when walking with a large breed ESA, and the fact that you can bring your emotional support dog with you anywhere will contribute to a more even temperament and calmer demeanor from your autistic child.
Autism is not an easy condition to deal with, and we are still understanding a lot of the ins and outs of it. What’s certain is that parents need all the help they can get when looking after an autistic child; an emotional support dog is certainly an avenue worth investigating!