Pairing a dog with a child who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could help families deal with their day-to-day struggles, according to a study by Quebec researchers.
The study was released by the MIRA Foundation, an organization that helps train assistance dogs and teams them with people who have visual or motor disabilities and with children with disorders such as autism.
The research is the first to to take into account the physiological impact of service dogs on children with ASD.
Eric Beaudoin has two young sons with ASD who participated in the study.
Morgan, a black lab, has been with the family for over a year, and Beaudoin says the animal has helped them cope with their stress.
"We have the feeling we're a bit [like] a normal family," he said.
He said before Morgan’s introduction to the family, every family outing risked becoming a crisis situation.
But with the dog, Beaudoin’s children were able to interact with people on a new level. He said Morgan also helped his kids deal with their emotions.
"The dog is bringing stability to the house," Beaudoin said.
The hormone levels of forty-two children with the disorder were measured before, during and after service dogs were introduced to their families. The study found their stress levels dropped significantly with the presence of a furry friend.
One of the researchers involved in the project is Sonia Lupien, director for the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at the Mental Health Research Centre at the Université de Montréal.
She said the dogs help the parents as well as the children.
"It is as if there is like a symbiotic relationship between the dog, who is non-verbal, and the child as well, who is non-verbal," she said. "That can give a little bit of break for the parents."
MIRA says it plans to train 60 more dogs to help other families.