FASD/DRUG EXPOSURE ASSISTANCE DOG
The FASD/DE Assistance Dog is a placement program for kids with FAS or FASD, as well as kids who were exposed to drugs prenatally, that was developed here at 4 Paws. We were the first agency to place highly skilled assistance dogs with children with FASD, and as far as we have seen, the only agency making these placements specifically trained for kids on the FASD spectrum and/or exposed to drugs prenatally.
Fetal alcohol spectrum (FASD) is a life-long birth defect that occurs when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol. Children who are born addicted to street drugs or who were exposed to drugs prenatally present very much like kids with FASD. This “hidden disability” leaves an individual with neurological, behavior, and emotional impairments. Up to 97% of children prenatally exposed to alcohol or drugs will also fight mental illness. In addition they are predisposed to substance abuse later in life. Most people don’t know that FASD and prenatal drug exposure are the leading preventable causes of intellectual impairment. And while more and more people have become aware of the number of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, the prevalence of FASD is equal to or greater than autism; In the United States, nearly one out of every hundred live births is affected by prenatal alcohol exposure.
About 3.4 of every 1000 infants born in a hospital in 2009 suffered from drug withdrawal due to prenatal drug exposure. Some studies show the number of babies born addicted to drugs has doubled in the past 5 years! At the rate in 2009, that is 13,539 infants a year, and double that would be 2 drug addicted children born every hour in the USA.
What is the FASD/DE Assistance Dog trained to do?
FASD, Autism, ADHD, drug exposure, and many other similar neurologically based disabilities have similar patterns of behavior, and as such the FASD/DE Assistance Dog is trained in many of the same tasks as the Autism Assistance Dog.
We can train the dogs in Behavior disruption and interruption with the goal being to stop a particular behavior and replace the behavior with interaction with the dog. Using this set of unique commands, the parents or adult handler can ask the dog to interact with the child to assist in areas like sensory overload, repetitive behaviors, or interrupting compulsive thought patterns.
Like the Autism Assistance Dog, dogs for children with FASD or drug exposure prenatally often present a safety factor in the home. They may be impulsive and bolt or wander away when in public, or may leave the house without telling anyone where they are going. With the Tethering system which joins the three unit team, parent/caregiver, dog, and child, the child is no longer able to bolt away or wander when out in public, and the parents can relax and enjoy the outing. If the tether is undone so the child can play at the playground, or once in the home and the child would “disappear”; the dog can be trained to the specific scent of the child. With scent specific training the dog is able to find them anywhere, even in a crowded mall!
What are the additional benefits to having a trained dog who can go everywhere with the child and the handler of the dog?
Similar to the ways in which an assistance dog assists an individual with Autism, FASD/DE Assistance Dogs provide support in a variety of environments, which result in improved communication and social skills. This is referred to as social lubrication.
The term “social lubrication” was developed by researchers, Mugford and Mc’Comisky to describe the phenomena where the presence of animals increased social interaction between people. Other social scientists suggested that the attractiveness of a child’s dog to other children may, as a secondary gain, enhance the attractiveness of the child as a friend or playmate. Thus the dog acts as a social bridge between the disabled child and the typical child.
An FASD/DE Assistance Dog’s presence offers a calming influence. Like children who are affected by ADHD, many children experiencing fetal alcohol or drug exposure have difficulty sitting still, staying at the table, or focusing. They may get easily frustrated or become highly anxious, and the dog can provide a calming presence. The Behavior disruption commands can be used in this situation to teach the child to self-regulate using the dog rather than escalating out of control.
An important role of the assistance dog is giving the child more self-confidence, which promotes independence. For children who also have attachment issues or fear of abandonment, the unconditional companionship offered by the child’s assistance dog is very healing. Often children with disabilities are generally dependent and may feel powerless due to their disability. The experience of some control over their assistance dog may provide a sense of mastery and self-assurance.
Children living with brain damage or psychiatric disabilities may have difficulty in creating intimacy with others. Trust is a big issue for those with attachment disorders. An FASD/DE Assistance Dog becomes a form of “grounding” for a child with fetal alcohol or drug exposure. The dogs serve as an emotional and sometimes physical anchor for a child who lives in a world that feels disorienting and confusing. When unexpected change or transitions easily offset the emotional balance of a child…the consistency of an assistance dog’s behavior helps that child be more able to cope with the unexpected.
Children living with fetal alcohol and drug exposure, like children with autism, may have difficulty in putting themselves “in other people’s shoes.” Taking care of a service dog offers a chance to develop nurturance and practice people skills. These children may also have issues interpreting the facial expression of others, reading body language, or understanding behaviors so the opportunity to evoke compassion is critical. Developing empathy also pertains to a child’s sense of self and the feelings and emotional investment in something other than themselves.
A Special Bond
Though the child may have issues socially with people, who are quite complicated; the relationship with a dog is simple. There are no hidden agendas, no confusing facial expression or voice tones, and the body language of the dog is straight forward. Humans are often seen as always “wanting something” the child may not be willing or able to do. The dog never wants anything but love, affection, and play, which make bonding and relationship building less complex. It is possible for the dog to become a stepping stone to understanding people.
“Dax is Jacob’s anchor, preventing Jacob from floating away and being lost at sea.”
“We are so thankful for Wisp and 4 Paws for Ability, our only regret is that we didn’t find 4 Paws sooner. Coty is adopted and was born with FAS and addicted to cocaine and marijuana. Due to his birth defects he struggles emotionally, socially, academically and his nervous system has been greatly impacted. Before Wisp he would have meltdowns numerous times throughout the day, lashing out verbally and physically. Coty lives in a very black and white world that’s all about him, he doesn’t understand social cues, doesn’t always like rules (especially being told no) or make friends easily….life is an uphill battle every day. Wisp is his best buddy, she loves him unconditionally. We’ve had Wisp since February of 2012. At first we had to initiate bonding, now if Coty raises his voice or cries, Wisp is at his side trying to figure out what’s wrong. If Coty is sent to time out he says “come on Wisp” and she follows along, knowing it’s cuddle time. When Coty is sent to time out to cool down before Wisp we would have to cuddle (lay on him for deep pressure) with Coty to calm him, now with Wisp she can cuddle with him. The exciting part is she does it without commands! She knows to kiss him, cuddle with him and nuzzle him when he needs it most. Wisp also sleeps with Coty every night, he is terrified to be by himself and he doesn’t sleep very well. Wisp keeps him company and helps provide pressure to keep him more comfortable while sleeping. The list of things our super dog dog is endless! Everyday we wonder how we survived 11 years without our Service Dog.”
“The unconditional love shown between Bond and JP is breathtaking at times. JP has a very hard time with social skills and Bond is right there no matter what. The bond was formed almost immediately with these two. The best decision we could have ever made on behalf of JP.”
“Joe was medication free, but now he is also behavior free thanks to his Service Dog Mayflower! We call her Miracle May!”
“The relationship with Chancer helps Iyal to become more other-directed. Chancer provides immediate feedback as an animal lets you know clearly when it needs something. Interacting with Chancer helps to shift Iyal’s focus off of himself and cultivates thinking about others.”