Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / China / Health

Dogs trained as companions for children with autism

By ZHOU WENTING in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-26 09:46
Share - WeChat
A trainer and a child volunteer showcase the skills of an autism assistance dog at a ceremony in Shanghai on Saturday. [Photo provided to China Daily]

After a year of rigorous training, a graduation ceremony was held in Shanghai on Saturday for a trio of Labrador retrievers that have qualified to accompany children with autism.

The black canines have acquired 30 skills that can enable them to assist children with special needs.

Families with autistic children aged between 3 and 12 can apply to have one of the pooches as a pet for free to help their children with safety, emotional and social networking support.

"We're receiving phone calls from families showing interest in taking the retrievers home. We'll try to find the most suitable matches between the families and the dogs," said Ren Jing, who is in charge of the dog training program at the Sichuan Science and Technology Poverty Alleviation Foundation.

"Children with some typical symptoms of autism, such as sleeping disorders and emotional instability, can benefit the most from such autism assistance dogs," she said.

Starting in 2021, the Sichuan Science and Technology Poverty Alleviation Foundation project sought assistance from the Shanghai Erxing Guide Dogs School for technical support.

"The dogs will provide autistic children with safe companionship and unconditional love, and help them reduce stress and remain calm in public spaces, where they can feel a state of high anxiety," said Zhang Shiping, a dog instructor at the school.

Studies show that interactions with animals have a positive impact on children with autism. In addition to providing emotional and psychological comfort, assistance dogs can also relieve stress, enhance a sense of security, reduce emotional outbursts and help improve social skills.

At the graduation ceremony, the 2-year-old pups — Yili, Halei and Hali — demonstrated their skills.

At the instructor's command, Hali placed his head on a volunteer child's lap. When an autistic child has slight emotional distress, such an action can soothe the child's emotions.

Yili pressed half of her body into the child's thighs as her way of giving a big hug. When a child shows restlessness, such an action can distract the child, giving him or her a sense of security and relieving stress.

"When a child's affinity with the dog reaches a certain level, the dog can independently judge whether its little owner needs a certain amount of emotional support and comfort," said Zhang.

The instructors said that as Yili has a very calm and stable personality, she is suitable for easily irritated autistic children, while Halei and Hali are better for those who are closed off and reluctant to communicate with the outside world as they are very enthusiastic.

"The dogs not only play with the children but cultivate and inspire their interest and ability to interact without bearing the pressure of socializing with people. The long-term goal is to bridge the gap between their hearts and the outside world," said Lai Jie, a consultant at the guide dog training school.

So far, several parents have shown an interest in adopting one of the dogs. "It's hard for us to get very intimate with our kids but dogs can be easily loved by them. With the gentle companionship of an assistance dog, I hope our child can be less lonely and live more happily," said a mother surnamed Chen in Shanghai.

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349