Author Topic: Would I Qualify for a Service Dog?  (Read 328 times)

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Offline JayHelm

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Would I Qualify for a Service Dog?
« on: September 28, 2017, 04:11:27 PM »
I am a 16 (nearly 17) year old living in the US, and I have been looking into getting a service dog for a while now to help me with my autism. I would be looking for a dog that can help me manage my "shutdown" episodes, during which I find it very hard to go to school, eat, and complete tasks, and with my general anxiety, particularly in public spaces. My past experiences with taking care of animals (for friends & family) has shown me that even during a shutdown episode, I am capable of taking care of a dog; I had very little trouble giving it food, water, taking it for a walk, and petting and playing with it. My hope is that a service dog trained to provide grounding, deep pressure stimulation, and one that could help me realize when I am getting very stressed could help me get out of my shutdowns sooner than I am already able to.

However, I am not impaired to the point of needing a service dog with me all the time. I would say I need the kind of help a trained service dog could provide about 30-40% of the time, and require very little or no help at other times. During the times I would need a service dog's help, though, I currently don't have the ability to complete my responsibilities for school, my health, and the time I lose when I shutdown makes it much harder to get back on track after the episode. My hope is that the dog will provide an easier transition from no functioning, to some functioning (taking care of the dog), to fully functioning. Since I wouldn't need all of the dog's services all the time, I was wondering if I would qualify for a service animal, or if another option like an Emotional Support Animal would be better suited to my needs.

Offline SandyStern

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Re: Would I Qualify for a Service Dog?
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2017, 08:11:13 PM »
You have a couple of different things going on.  Let me see if I can help.  Most of what you wrote sounds like you'd benefit from a pet dog. As you note, caring for another living thing can bring you out of "shutdown." You wouldn't need public access for that, and the dog would not be performing tasks.

You mention deep pressure stimulation and grounding as possible tasks.  I don't think that deep pressure is a task, although others may disagree.  Getting a dog to sit on your lap or lie across you is not a task, and people who know more about this than I have pointed out that adaptive equipment like a weighted blanket works more effectively. As for "grounding," that is a broad term. Many people find it helpful and "grounding" to interact with and pet a dog.  But that definitely is not a task.  Alerting when you get stressed is a controversial subject. I've personally known a couple of people who claim their dogs do that, but it looks like ordinary attention-seeking behavior to me, and then the handler rewards the dog and says "Oh I must have been getting stressed out, I better [do whatever]." Therapists recommend setting alarms for intervals to remind you to do a quick self-check of signs that you're getting stressed. I would think that would be a better solution, particularly since canine experts have said that asking a dog to alert to human distress is bad for the dog.  It is stressful for them!

But if you want to have a dog perform tasks, that's fine. The question is whether, having done so, you would be a legal service dog team. To answer that question, you'd need a clinician to state that your autism constitutes an ADA qualifying condition. And if so, then you'd need to consider what work or tasks might ameliorate it.  Kirsten has come up with a great way of figuring this out: imagine a robot that would do things for you. What could the robot do that would make you better able to cope, or to be more independent?  Could you train a dog to do those things?  If the dog would "ground" you and the robot could not, because of an emotional attachment to the dog, it sounds more like an emotional support dog.

I also think it is wise to check with a trusted clinician about task work. Some research is emerging from PTSD dog programs suggesting that some of the tasks are making the handler worse.  With anxiety, you should be aware that sometimes having a dog with you in a traditionally non-dog space can increase anxiety.  You see an aggressive dog on the street and worry about an attack. Or you're in a grocery store and your dog sniffs the butcher counter and you're mortified.  Lots to think about.

Offline JayHelm

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Re: Would I Qualify for a Service Dog?
« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2017, 10:01:27 AM »
Yeah, a lot of my reason for wanting a service dog is just that having a pet to take care of makes it more likely that I'll be able to take care of myself. However, I feel like I wasn't as clear as I should have been. In addition to grounding (which you're right on, it isn't really a task in and of itself), my intention is that the dog can help me realize when I'm stressed (which I know is apparent to others, but not to me; I tend to get very shakey, my heart rate goes up, and my voice volume changes a lot), and help prevent me from hurting myself during the shutdowns, since I usually tend to hit myself or bang my head during them. Being around other people during shutdowns isn't an option either- people are very stressful during them, and animals are not.

I have already tried other methods like the weighted blanket and the occasional alarms, but with my schedule and the flexibility that I need, they just aren't viable options to carry around or check consistently. Besides, any method I use in public is going to draw attention, blanket or dog. I know that owning a dog, service or not is a big responsibility, but I'm concerned about the lack of training a pet or ESA would have compared to a service dog, and I worry that they won't respond in a helpful manner if I need them to.

Offline Azariah

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Re: Would I Qualify for a Service Dog?
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2017, 11:44:19 AM »
Sandy - I would argue pretty strongly that a dog can provide a signal that can be helpful to the handler at the early stages of an anxiety attack. This is something that Serenity does for me. Rio, who is my "pet" senior citizen dog, has also done it for years in our house. She started doing it on her own.

The key that I'm learning is that you have to be prepared to respond to that signal 100% of the time or it can stress the dog out. That means when you are at the doctor and they are doing a pre-op exam and your dog signals that you are anxious you need to show the dog that you are taking steps to calm down. It can be awkward. Sorry - doctor - but we need to take a 60 second break while I do some deep breathing to calm down. But I think its the only fair thing to the dog - if you are going to ask them to signal you for early stages of anxiety you must respond 100% to those early signals. I was at a doctor's appointment about a month ago where we were talking about an extremely stressful topic. I hadn't thought through the anxiety alert when I was with doctors. Serenity kept alerting me and since I didn't take measures to calm down there were like 10 alerts in that doctor's visit. She kept getting more insistent as I wasn't responding. Like um mom - are you not hearing me - you are STRESSED! And you aren't using the tools you usually do to calm down. Hello.

I did some soul searching and I don't think that is fair to her. So my agreement with her is that if one of her tasks is to signal me at the early stages of my anxiety my responsibility to her is to take action on that 100% of the time. That isn't as easy to do as it sounds. So its something to think about if it is a task that you are considering.

Just some food for thought.
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Offline Moonsong

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Re: Would I Qualify for a Service Dog?
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2017, 12:50:57 PM »
Hi there - I'm also autistic!


DPT
I do disagree that DPT doesn't constitute as a task. It is something that the dog is trained to do, and it mitigates the disability. So long as it's actually DPT and not just emotional support, of course it's a task. The important distinction here is that it isn't a STRONG task. It would be difficult or even impossible to prove in court that it isn't emotional support, and a judge might brush it off saying that you could use a blanket or weighted clothing etc. So it isn't something you'd want to depend on to legitimatize the dog, but that doesn't discount the benefit that can come from it.

And yes, obviously devices made for DPT are much, much preferable to a dog. Dogs have bony elbows and don't distribute weight as evenly as a device would. However, it's not all that convenient to carry those devices around all of the time. Imagine being in high school and having to carry a blanket around all the time, vs having a dog. Though the dog draws more attention, it's probably going to be a lot more dignified.

I'm definitely not saying that someone should get a SD instead of DPT devices. Far from it. All I'm saying is that a dog can help in a pinch when it's not realistic to have a blanket. For example, let's say you're in the middle of a grocery store and end up needing DPT. The dog can provide enough to get you to the point where you can leave the store, where you then have a weighted blanket stored in the car.


Grounding
Sandystern is completely on point here. Grounding is not a task at all whatsoever. A dog can remind you to ground yourself, but you yourself must utilize the skill. Even if you use the dog for the grounding, or train the dog to do something to be available for grounding, it is not a task because you are doing it, not the dog.


Alerting
I agree with Azariah here. An anxiety alert can be very helpful. It doesn't inherently make the dog stressed out. Some dogs it does, some it doesn't. That's why it's important to find an emotionally aloof dog when training this task. If the dog 'naturally' alerts to anxiety, then the chances are that the dog itself is anxious. They aren't trying to make you feel better (that idea comes from anthropomorphism), they're nervous and are utilizing appeasement behaviors to ask you to please be normal and take responsibility so that they don't have to. What you want is a dog who sees you crying your eyes out and kind of just goes "eh". Take my Max for example; he doesn't really care if I'm crying, unless I start making weird noises, in which case he looks at me like "what the heck was that? Weirdo." He will, however, listen to me in that state. I can ask him for taskwork, or I can just call him to me and cuddle for emotional support. But he doesn't care that I'm upset. And that's perfect, because it means that it doesn't upset him.

I also agree that you do need to respond in order to prevent stress.

Anxiety alerting can be a really good task, both for those who have trouble noticing when they're getting upset, and those who have trouble remembering to do something about it. For me, I usually (not always, but usually) notice when I'm getting anxious. But I rarely remember to utilize my coping mechanisms. My brain just doesn't put two and two together. So when my boyfriend notices me getting anxious, he gently reminds me to do something about it, and it helps a lot.


Qualification
There's kind of a step-by-step process to this.

1. Determine whether you are disabled according to the ADA. It's best to do this with the opinion of a doctor who knows your potentially disabling condition very well because it's hard to be unbiased about it. Most people either believe they are disabled when they aren't because the symptoms sure feel awful to them, or they have some kind of ableism and struggle with feeling like they aren't disabled 'enough'. I think the latter is more common, but I'm not entirely sure. So it's important to determine whether you are disabled with your doctor. If you aren't disabled, you cannot get a service dog period.

2. Is it time to get a service dog? Are you at the point where you aren't expected to get better? Even if you are disabled, if there's still a chance of successful treatment it's better to wait on the dog since dogs are the ultimate enablers and tend to make treatment harder or even impossible, because you become dependent on the dog.

3. Make a list of what you can't do. Forget the dog for now. There are no such thing as service dogs for the purpose of this step. This is another good one to do with your doctor. What can't you do/what do you have a substantial limitation in doing?

4. Service dogs still don't exist. The doctor has suggested buying a new type of robot designed for mitigating disabilities. The robot is cold and emotionless. What can this robot be programmed to do to help with the list that you made in step two?

5. Now dogs finally exist again. Go over your robot's task list. Of that list, what can a dog be trained to do? Is there anyway that you can get that help without using a dog? Talk to your doctor about dog alternatives, as they might have ideas that you've never even heard of. It's also important to go over your task list with your doctor to make sure that none of the dog's tasks will be harmful to you, like Sandy said. 

After step five, you have your task list and have determined if a dog could potentially help you. You've also identified if you qualify for one.


Task Shopping
This wasn't mentioned by the OP, but I felt like it might be an important point to go over. Task shopping is when you look online or ask other SD handlers what tasks they use to see if you can use them for yourself. I don't believe that task shopping is inherently evil, but it can be very, very damaging if you use it wrong. You should never, ever task shop until you've already gone through the five steps that I mentioned above. You need to make your very own task list based off of what you can't do, not find tasks online that justify getting a dog. Otherwise, you risk not having a relevant task list that will mitigate your disability. You don't want cookie-cutter tasks because 1. they might not be the best choices for you and 2. you might end up with illegitimate tasks and then find yourself in a place where it turns out that your SD is illegitimate. After you've definitely gotten your own, personalized tasks based off of your limitations, I don't see the harm in seeing if anyone maybe had ideas that you wouldn't have thought of that can be helpful to you as well.

For example, maybe someone in a wheelchair wanted a dog to pick things up for them and help them transfer, but they've never heard of wheelchair pulling before. Wheelchair pulling might be helpful to them, and they would never have heard about it had they not looked it up. Or, alternatively, let's say that someone is looking for a dog for anxiety. They read online that DPT can help anxiety, and see a video of it where the dog simply rests it's head on the handler's lap. As it turns out, that's not true DPT (not nearly heavy enough nor does it cover enough space to work) and their dog is challenged in court and determined not to be a SD. Or even if they were correctly using DPT, they get challenged in court and are unable to convince the judge that it isn't emotional support and end up losing their service dog rights. So that's why it's important that, if you choose to task shop, to do it after you've already established your own list of legitimate tasks.


I have already tried other methods like the weighted blanket and the occasional alarms, but with my schedule and the flexibility that I need, they just aren't viable options to carry around or check consistently.

This I really get. It's really tough to remember to carry things around and check on things. I think it's maybe the executive functioning issues. Still, I find that it's important to try. Perhaps you could keep a weighted blanket in your car or maybe your school nurse could keep it in her office etc so that you have it available, but don't have to carry it around everywhere.

I have trouble with alarms too. I like to compare it to the scene in the new Wonder Woman movie; she sees the guy's watch and asks what it is. He says something along the lines of "It tells time. You know, tells you when to eat and sleep and go to work." And she says "You let that little thing tell you what to do?" For me, I find it difficult to listen to alarms. If I don't already have the motivation to do what they're reminding me of, then they're just annoying noise. If it's just a reminder of something I don't mind doing, i.e. a reminder to go on my evening bike ride, and I need it simply because I forget then it's fine. But when it's to remind me to do something I'm not too crazy about? It doesn't work as well. It's because there's no consequence if I ignore it. It's sooo easy to press the snooze button or simply turn it off without doing anything. With a person, though, they can tell whether I actually listen, so there's pressure to do something.
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