By: Jessica Brody
The connection between a child and a dog can be a magical thing. For children with learning disabilities or special needs, service dogs are playing an important role in shaping the future of special education. As they say, “A child who connects to a dog connects to the world.”
 
We typically think of service dogs and therapy dogs assisting those with special needs in their own homes or personal lives. A guide dog might help someone with a visual impairment take a stroll down the street. An in-home service dog might assist a disabled child with standing, walking or performing daily tasks.
 
Recently, however, there has been a shift towards integrating service dogs into special education for children. Many schools are seeing a huge improvement in children’s learning, confidence and enjoyment levels when a service dog is present.
 
Scientific studies have shown that service dogs improve self-esteem, reduce fear and helplessness, boost confidence, improve mental and emotional health, improve social skills and community integration, and reduce the number of hours of paid or unpaid assistance required by special needs individuals.
 
Parents of children with special needs will be relieved to hear that service dogs have been shown to improve education and school attendance among children and teenagers, and can even improve the chances that a special needs child will eventually be able to land a part-time job.
 
Service dogs can be reading buddies, friends and trustworthy companions. They can assist with walking or help children with motor skills. They help teach responsibility and nurture a sense of purpose when the children are allowed to help care for the service dogs. Training a dog allows children to build self-esteem and practice social skills. Service dogs even offer a shoulder to cry on and create a safe space for the children’s emotional needs.
 
Schools that have integrated service dogs into their special education classroom environments have seen a plethora of improvements – both in their students’ quality of life and their students’ education levels. If you have a special needs child, it might be worth finding a school with a service dog – or seeing if your school will allow your own service dog to come to class with your child.
 
Service dogs seem to work well for children with special needs. They can be integrated into any classroom, whether the classroom is a special education class or whether it is an inclusive classroom with both special education and regular education students. Children with and without special needs or learning disabilities are reportedly calmer and more confident with service dogs around.
 
Thinking of getting a service dog? Service dogs can be a huge help to your child, both at home or in the classroom, but there are some things you should consider. Do you and your child(ren) actually like dogs? Do you have time to care for one? Which breed is best for you? Are dog allergies a concern? Can you afford a service dog? If you plan on letting the service dog live with you, are you able to go through training to become a full-time service dog handler?
 
There is usually a fee for getting a service dog, due in large part to the professional training that is often required. However, finances don’t have to stand in your way. Talk to a charitable service dog organization about your situation and see what your options are. Some people are even doing fundraisers to help cover these costs. With so many fundraising websites and social networks available at our fingertips these days, raising money for a service dog is easier than ever.
 
There are certainly lots of considerations when it comes to getting a service dog. That being said, most dog owners – and especially those who own service dogs – will happily tell you the rewards of having a service dog are well worth the cost, the effort and the responsibility.
 
More questions about service dogs? To learn even more about the benefits of service dogs, as well as how to obtain one, read this helpful guide from Rover.com.