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Autism Therapy Dogs an Insurance Fraud?

Are taxpayers paying for autism therapy dogs or just pets?

Do we spend taxpayer dollars on playtime activities for autistic children without any real therapuetic value?

We all know of dogs as man’s best friend. How they can provide companionship and unconditional love. We here stories all the time of how seniors with pets live longer and the therapeutic value of canines used as service dogs. But is there really proof? Is the effect of having a dog no different for children with or without autism.

autism therapy dogs

Stella at school. Are insurance dollars paying for autism therapy dogs or just pets.

If not then are we obligated to spend taxpayer dollars for what would seem to be no more than a pet? Do some falsely proclaim the value of dogs used for autism therapy just to augment their own businesses?

Talk to parents and they will tell you no. Carrie and Steve LeGault were skeptical at first but are now firm believers in the value of autsim therapy dogs. From Chloe Fedio of  Ottawa Citizen..

Autism Therapy Dogs Aclaimed

The couple was skeptical about bringing a dog into the family at first. At that point, they wouldn’t even take dog-fearing Elliot to the park in case he came face-to-face with a four-legged pet…

At home, Baxter is a friend to cuddle with on the futon, but when he’s out in public suited up in a red “dog service” vest he goes into work mode, Elliot walks at his side gripping a large foam handle leash, while one of his parents holds another, longer leash…

With Baxter, there’s no more need to put her six-year-old son in a shopping cart when they go to the grocery store, LeGault said.

Read more:

Licensed Psychologist (PhD) specializing in autism and related disabilities Travis Thompson seems to think so. He says as much on his blog post.

Autism Therapy Dogs or Just Pets

Some parents believe their children benefit from having a therapy dog or participating in equine therapy. Generally, such services are not directly reimbursed by medical insurance, but often state Medicaid Waiver funds are made available via county social service agencies to pay for them.

In other words the taxpayer still pays for them even if the basic Medicaid medical reimbursement system will not. The cost of equine therapy (also called Hippotherapy) averages $40 to 80 per 30 minutes, usually once a week, or $2000-4000 per year.

I’m not aware of any evidence of equine therapy having any practical lasting benefits on autism symptoms, though some children with autism greatly enjoy riding horses. No child failed to develop important skills that overcome their core autism symptoms because s/he didn’t ride a horse. Fun is fine, therapy isn’t the same as having a good time.

There have been few studies of benefits of service dogs other than being a great convenience to parents, and the children generally greatly enjoy having a pet friend. Service dogs are expensive. The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, which has the most experience with service dogs spends about $55,000 to breed and train each of the 130 guide and service dogs it places with a blind person. Similar costs are involved in providing a service dog to a child with autism.

You will see phony underestimates on line from companies selling service dogs, that leave out a lot of the actual costs, but if you look into them in detail, you will very likely be a bit shocked. Sometimes the family doesn’t pay the total cost of obtaining the dog, but someone does.

Someone else, i.e. you and I, pay for the costs of breeding and training the dog usually through support of community agencies that are often partially publicly funded and usually tax exempt. In addition it costs about $1500 per year to maintain the dog, again which is often paid via county Medicaid Waiver funding. The Foundation for the Blind, which trains 130 dogs per year, has a budget of $8 million. Service dogs are expensive…

Travis Thompson doesn’t discount the overall benefits of having a dog, companionship, safety and learning responsability. You can read more about his thought on his blog.

Do you believe this is the best use of taxpayer and insurance coverage dollars? Please tell us your thoughts and share with others.

One Response to Autism Therapy Dogs an Insurance Fraud?

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