Niko is a fun, energetic, four-year-old boy who loves his dogs, watching Disney movies, chocolate, and his trampoline.
Niko has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory processing difficulties. Loud sounds and unpredictable environments can be extremely distressing for him. This causes going to the doctor, or dentist, or getting a haircut to be challenging for him and his family.
Waking up on a rainy day, getting stuck in horn-blaring traffic, and or walking into a classroom to find a substitute teacher can be hard for any child. However, these situations can be even more overwhelming for children with sensory processing difficulties. However, Niko’s future Good Dog! will be a constant in his life which will help immensely. For example, when something changes in Niko’s routine or when something doesn’t go as expected, Niko will have his service dog for support. There are many ways in which Niko’s Good Dog! will have a positive impact on his everyday life experiences.
In the community, Niko’s dog will serve as a visual reminder for others to be kind and patient when interacting with Niko and his family. This can help alleviate anxiety for the entire family when on community outings together. Niko’s mother, Kaitlyn, is looking forward to the sense of safety and comfort that his future service dog will provide. Researchers have even found that parents/guardians of children who have ASD and a service dog, rate their children as safer from environmental dangers (Burgoyne et al., 2014). Niko’s future dog will also be helpful in busy environments that are crowded to keep space between Niko and the crowd. This will allow Niko to feel more comfortable in his surroundings. Additionally, his service dog will allow more social interaction opportunities when other people want to learn about him and his buddy.
Not only will Nikos's dog go everywhere with him, but will also assist with routines at home. For example, Niko’s dog will likely play an important role in his future nighttime routines. Many kids with ASD have trouble self-soothing when they wake during the night. Deep pressure support, a technique known to have a calming effect, from a dog can help them fall back asleep. This is similar to using a weighted blanket but with the added benefit of having a trusted friend staying by their side throughout the night. This may enable Niko to have a more restful sleep. Researchers have even found that service dogs provide beneficial effects on sleep for children with autism, perhaps due to them having a greater sense of security with the dog (Tseng, 2022).
During the day, Nikos's dog will be his best buddy to run and play around with while providing social support. The dog will also assist Niko in implementing coping strategies at times of distress. Sensory processing disorder can make it challenging to process intense sensory information and or multiple types of sensory information at once. Loud noises can hurt a child’s ears and or make it hard to focus on important tasks that need to be focused on. Certain textures of clothing can feel painful and or distracting. Bright lights can be alerting and or make it difficult to process visual information. Without adequate processing of information from the muscles and joints for a sense of body position, a child may have a poor sense of self in space, making it tough to navigate certain environments. Difficulty processing information from the inner ear can contribute to a poor sense of equilibrium which can result in falling easily, being fearful of falling, and or being in a constant state of fight or flight. Many individuals with sensory processing difficulties have difficulty processing multiple different types of information making navigating this world even more difficult. Furthermore, having challenges with making sense of types of information can make completing daily tasks that most people take for granted problematic. Niko’s pup will be trained to provide deep pressure and tactile stimulation. For instance, using the “lay on” and “lap” commands can provide the types of sensory input that Niko needs in certain situations. Additionally, Niko’s dog will provide an opportunity for distractions when a distraction is needed. Overall, there are countless benefits that Niko’s future dog will provide to him and his family.
Niko’s family is currently in the fundraising phase and on their way to getting Niko his new best friend who will go everywhere with him and make challenging tasks and situations more manageable. This will have an impact on both Niko's and his family’s well-being. Niko’s family looked at various assistance dog organizations before getting connected with Good Dog! Service Canines. Good Dog! Service Canines is accredited by Assistance Dogs International demonstrating the high-quality services provided. Please follow the link below and/or share with others to donate to Niko’s fundraiser to directly make a difference in his life.
Burgoyne, L., Dowling, L., Fitzgerald, A., Connolly, M., Browne, J., & Perry, I. J. (2014). Parent perspectives on the value of assistance dogs for children with autism spectrum disorder: A cross-sectional study. BMJ Open, 4(6), 1-10.
Tseng, A. (2022). Brief report: Above and beyond safety: Psychosocial and biobehavioral impact of autism-assistance dogs on autistic children and their families. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 53, 468-483.