I read Meg Daley Olmert’s book Made for Each Other. (I got a copy from the local library, but when I look up the title on Amazon.com, the cover is different. It has a Vizsla on it – go Vizslas! But I digress.) I also read the September (2011) issue of The Whole Dog Journal with an article by CJ Puotinen titled “More Than a Friend.”
What do these two things have in common? Olmert’s book has a section discussing autism and the article mentioned above also discusses autism. While discussing autism in children, the subject of dogs is bound to come up. In the Whole Dog Journal article, Puotinen discusses how dogs are utilized as both service dogs and therapy dogs for children with autism. According to the article, one of the most widely reported benefits of canine-child interaction is reduced anxiety. The study cited in the article discusses the findings of reduced cortisol in the children with service dogs.
In Olmert’s book, she states that researchers suspect a defect in the oxytocin gene or the gene that regulates the oxytocin receptors as part of the cause of autism. An oxytocin deficiency has been linked to some of the physical behaviors and social isolation associated with autism. Olmert believes that part of the reason for the huge increase in autism today – double that of just ten years ago and ten times that of a generation ago – is our increasing distance from animals and nature. Animals have been shown to significantly increase our oxytocin levels – the hormone most well-known for creating bonds between mothers and their babies. Autism, along with other increasing issues in our society, Olmert believes are partially caused by our lack of connection with animals that we once had as primarily hunter/gatherers or farmers.
This all indirectly also relates to my prior career where I was the Controller for Denver Options, a nonprofit organization serving the developmentally disabled in Denver. One of many developmental disabilities they work with is people with autism. Kudos to all those – dogs and humans – who work to help make the lives of those with developmental disabilities better!