SD Tasks for Asperger's Syndrome

Glindy's Tasks

I'm often asked what sort of assistance a service dog can provide for an adult with Asperger's Syndrome. Because impairments manifest so differently, especially at the high end of the spectrum, everyone needs to find their own answer to this question.

My understanding of the ADA and similar laws is that clearly-defined, trainable tasks are more useful in asserting a dog's status as a service animal than merely asserting the therapeutic value of the animal's companionship. While I hope this may change in the future, I have personally chosen to err on the side of caution by training Glindy in specific tasks directly related to my primary and secondary disabilities, rather than relying on the obvious therapeutic effect her presence has on my daily life.

It is worth noting that, other than hyperfocus (monotropism) and social deficits, I have found it easier to create tasks related to some of the comorbid disorders commonly associated with Asperger's Syndrome such as OCD, anxiety, and depression, rather than addressing the underlying neurological disorder itself. I'd certainly be interested in hearing from other AS adults regarding tasks that might more closely address the social and sensory issues which define the syndrome.

Meanwhile, here are my personal task lists. The first table includes tasks where Glindy is already reliable, while the second table shows the things we are continuing to work on. Service dog training, like much in life, is a never-ending process of continuing education.

Current Demonstrable Tasks
Task Purpose
Alert to doorbell. Auditory support for hyperfocus and hypersomnia.
Down-stay for tactile stimulation. Reduce anxiety, distractability, and feelings of isolation.
Touch on cue. Reduce apathy and isolation.
Hug on cue. Reduce apathy, isolation, and sadness.
Eye gaze on cue (e.g. "look" or "watch"). Improve eye-contact skills; reduce isolation.
Auto-watch handler. Reduce isolation and hyperfocus; assist in task-switching.
Walk on loose leash, or at heel, through a crowd. Reduce anxiety and isolation in crowded environments; provide a narrow, external focus to reduce sensory overload.
Carry objects. Mitigate disorganization, memory loss, and OCD-related anxieties.
Respond to commands and interactions. Provide feedback on affect; provide social barometer.
Down-stay on mat. Address OCD-related anxieties.
Whine or lap-up. Provide socially-acceptable exit strategy.

Future Tasks
Task Purpose
"Find Todd." Assist others during periods of hypersomnia or hyperfocus.
"Bring Todd." Support for hyperfocus and task-switching.
Standing stay. Address OCD-related anxieties.
Greet guests or associates (e.g. "shake"). Improve socialization and reduce OCD-related anxieties.

I have also recently added a third table. This table shows services Glindy provides which may not be strictly task-based (although various tasks may be constructed around them) but which I believe constitute "doing work" under the definition of a service dog as set out in 28 CFR Part 36 § 104. Parts of these functional areas may have been addressed by specific tasks in the tables above, but the functional services Glindy provides in these areas are much broader than an itemized task list may indicate, and therefore deserve to be called out separately here.

Other Mitigating Work
Functional Area Service Provided
Monotropism Continuity during task switching through presence, sameness, and other factors.
Monotropism/OCD/Anxiety The partnership creates externalized and persistent elements of daily structure and routine.
OCD/Anxiety Cue- and command-based interactions provide a level of control over elements of the external environment.
Sensory Integration Concrete focus point and stability in confusing or overwhelming environments by providing continuity, a known quantity to concentrate on, and a distraction from chaotic input.
Depression/Dysthymia Care requirements improve connectedness and combat psychomotor retardation.
Proprioception/Kinesthesia External reference for identifying oddities in gait, balance, or body orientation.
Prosopagnosia Reduces the social impact of mild to moderate face-blindness, and improves identification of others as known individuals.

These three tables show the tasks and services that I personally find useful in managing my disabilities. I refer to these tables myself, and will probably modify them from time to time. Meanwhile, please feel free to use these lists as suggestions for formulating your own individualized training plans.

ASD-Related Tasks Suggested by Others

Members of ASD-SD and other mailing lists have suggested additional tasks they find personally useful, or that may have value to others on the autism spectrum.

Follow Designated Person
Addresses orientation issues during sensory overload.
Signal Presence of Aquaintance
Address face-blindness or inability to recognize others.
Proprioceptic Feedback
Use tactile feedback from a guide-style harness to orient the body, or to regulate spatial or somatic perceptions.

Other Lists of Suggested Tasks

Various individuals and organizations maintain their own list of possible tasks. Even if the suggested tasks aren't applicable, they may spark additional ideas.