An assistance dog is suitable for children with autism from the age of approximately 4 years to 12 years ( Children of all ages are eligible, however older children will be assessed on a case by case basis for need).
An assistance dog is not a pet, but a service dog that is trained to provide safety and to support the child with autism to overcome the distressing elements of their disability and to live the life that they deserve.
Each dog wears a special jacket which identifies them as an autism assistance dog and thus gives the child and their family full access to public places such as shops, restaurants and cinemas. The dog wears a harness that is connected to a belt worn by the child and the dog then takes direction from the parent via a normal lead and voice commands.
Our research shows that our autism assistance dogs can
Distract a child who becomes distressed by nose nudging and pawing so that the child does not hurt them self or others, and so learns to use the dog as a coping mechanism
Eases difficult transitions to places that would normally be anxiety provoking, such as the supermarket, school, any place outside the child's home
Holds position in dangerous situations so that the child can not bolt. The child is attached to the dog via a belt which is then linked to the dogs jacket. The parent then takes control of the dog by the lead to ensure that the child who is at risk of bolting, remains in a safe place, e.g. can no longer run out into oncoming traffic
Can improve a child's communication and concentration skills as they are no longer highly anxious and distraught, and so the child can focus on their surroundings, process and learn
Provides pressure contact and comfort to child who needs tactile support in stressful situations
Helps to locate a child who might have disappeared, is non verbal and cannot respond to their own name
'Meltdowns' reduce as the child now feels safe and has a constant companion
Enables family to bring their child out and do normal, everyday things, with full public access. Families no longer live in isolation and avoidance of places that once caused their child such distress
Educates society, helping people to understand that this wonderful child has a disability and needs our support and not our criticism.
All children with autism and their families are assessed for suitability and given special training to ensure that the partnership with an autism assistance dog is a success and has a positive lasting impact for everyone.
It takes up to two years to train each assistance dog. From 8 weeks old, the assistance puppy is placed with a caring volunteer Puppy Foster Carer, who brings up the pup for the first 12-18 months of the puppy's life, ensuring that the puppy is well socialised, focused and not readily distracted, so as to ensure a suitable and successful autism assistance dog.
The assistance dog then begins their 'professional training' for a further 3-5 months, at which time the assistance dog is matched with a child with autism, based on the needs of the child. Once the assistance dog is placed, AADI follow up with aftercare visits and support. And the rest is success and happiness for the child with autism, for their family, for their community