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In middle school, I really struggled. I had difficulty making friends at school. Additionally, I was bullied regularly by two of my fellow students. My self-esteem was very low. The anxiety and stress I felt at school exacerbated some of the negative behaviors linked to my Asperger’s.

When my mom started researching ways to help me, she discovered autism service dogs. I’ve always liked animals, so my mom thought this might be a good option for me. She put me on a waiting list with a training organization, and after much anticipation, I was able to bring my service dog, Molly, home. She has changed my life in so many ways! It’s hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, I had never even heard about autism service dogs. Today, Molly and I are great companions. Here are a few ways she benefits me:

My social skills are improving. Surprisingly, one of the quickest results I noticed was that with Molly by my side, I found it easier to talk to people. Service dogs act as a “social bridge,” facilitating connections and making conversations easier for their humans, which has certainly been true in my experience. In fact, she has already helped me make a new friend at school. On the second day of my English class, a curious classmate asked me about Molly. I told her about my Asperger’s and how Molly helps me navigate certain situations. Because I was comfortable talking about Molly, it was much easier for me to connect with my classmate, and we discovered that we have other things in common. We’ve been eating lunch at school together, and I really don’t think it would have happened without Molly.

I feel more independent. Service dogs can help prevent eloping. While I’ve never felt the urge to run away, when I get overwhelmed I do shutdown. I sort of retreat inside myself, and it’s difficult for me to express what I need in those moments.

For example, before Molly I found it very difficult to be in a grocery store. Whenever I would accompany my mom, the bright lights, crowds of people and carts would be overwhelming to me. Usually those trips to the store would end with my mom escorting me back to the car so that I could sit in the quiet. But now, I’m actually able to help her out. With Molly by my side, I feel comfortable going and grabbing items on our list. She has really given me a sense of independence!

She keeps me calm. I’m an avid swimmer. And I got into swimming, because it is a great way for kids on the spectrum to decrease stress. Unfortunately, swimming can’t help keep me calm in every tricky situation … but I’ve discovered that Molly can!

The other day, I had a medical appointment in an unfamiliar building with multiple stories. Elevators are next to impossible for me. Without people, they make me very anxious and uncomfortable, so a crowded elevator can send me into a meltdown. Usually I take the stairs, but on this particular day, my dad and I were running late, so the elevator was the only option. As my dad and I got on, I could tell that he was just as nervous as I was, but thankfully, Molly sensed our nerves! I maintained constant contact with her fur, and she jumped up and placed her legs on me to indicate her presence. It wasn’t easy, but it was the most successful elevator ride I’ve ever had!

Service dogs keep children on the autism spectrum safer. Many of the benefits Molly provides me contribute to my mental health, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge how these animals can keep children on the autism spectrum physically safer.

While wandering off is not an issue for me, some kids on the spectrum do wander at night while their parents are sleeping. A service dog can help prevent this very dangerous situation by barking to wake up the parents or by circling the child to make it more difficult for them to leave their room, home, etc.

My journey with Molly is just beginning, but it’s already difficult for me to imagine being without her. For any parents considering an autism service dog, I recommend having your child spend some time around regular dogs, first. If they tend to bond well with animals, then I think they’ll see great results with a service dog.

I’m certainly grateful that Molly helps me feel more comfortable in the world, and I truly love what these dogs can do to prevent other kids like me from experiencing physical harm. They are literally life-savers! 

Kathleen Carter is a teen living with Asperger’s Syndrome. She enjoys educating her peers and others about AS. Recently, she began writing proudly about how her experiences differ from those of other people her age. She is grateful to have the opportunity to write for EducatorLabs and contribute to Autism Digest.


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