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Autism Assistance Dog Program

What is the Autism Assistance Dog program?

As part of our wider assistance dog training program, Guide Dogs WA has developed the Autism Assistance Dog (AAD) program to provide highly-trained dogs to families of children with autism. The two-year program reflects many of the principles of our Guide Dog training program, with local training and, following a careful matching process, one-on-one training is provided to the child and the family. Ongoing after-care visits from our instructors for the rest of the dog’s working life, ensure a lifetime of consistent safety, independence, inclusion and companionship.

The program is designed to improve the quality of life for both the child and his or her family through three key areas:

  • Safety
  • Independence
  • Inclusion

Every child is unique, however, behaviours typically associated with autism can create isolation, mobility issues and reduce social interactions.

Often, children with autism have substantially lower awareness of danger and limits. This subjects the parent/carer to higher levels of support and vigilance to ensure the safety of the child. This can lead to high levels of stress and a feeling of a ‘lack of normality’.

Social situations, such as shopping, going for a walk, or going to a restaurant can become more of a challenge or be restricted altogether.

The program contains a number of different steps:

  • Assessment
  • Wait List/Matching
  • Training
  • Aftercare Visits

Assessment

Once the eligibility has been met, you will be interviewed by our AAD staff and upon acceptance to the program, home visits will be arranged to assess and determine suitability. Parents/carers are required to undertake a dog handling session.

Wait List/Matching

Matching a dog to a child and family is a complex task and varies for every single family situation. Families should be prepared that there may be a wait before a suitable dog becomes available. Waiting times vary depending on dogs in training, people on the list and the needs of the family.

Training

A degree of flexibility and a strong commitment is required for the two-week intensive training program. The training takes place in the home, and consists of:

Parents/Carers Only

The first week is a five-day dog handling course to establish whether we have made the correct match to your skills and the needs of the family. This is followed by an Assistance Dogs International (ADI) access test. Upon successful completion of the test, the dog will be granted full access rights (eg. into restaurants etc).

Parents & Child

The second week continues the training and skills learned in the first week and requires the child to be present full-time during this period. Some leave from pre-school or school should be arranged to accommodate the training. This training will deliver the key objectives that have been determined and agreed and will be different for each family.

Aftercare

Following successful completion of the training course, in-home aftercare visits will be conducted by our trainers after 3 months, 6 months and then once yearly. The ADI test requires an ongoing, yearly assessment for the rest of the working life of the dog.

Fletcher, Tethered to Autism Assistance Dog, Koha

Fletcher, Tethered to Autism Assistance Dog, Koha

How will a dog assist in providing safety?

Some autistic children have a tendency to bolt (attempt to run off/abscond) during times of anxiety or stress, which presents a number of challenges for the parent/carer.

The dog is tethered to the child by a belt around the child’s waist, which allows normal movement and mobility. If the child attempts to run away, the dog is trained to resist by sitting or lying down. This ensures the safety of the child and gives the parent/carer time to intervene.

The dog’s response frees the parent/carer from having to restrain the child or rely on continuous physical contact (like holding hands) while out of the home.

When the dog is connected to the child, the child quickly learns they are unable to run away and the attempt to bolt/abscond is reduced or completely removed.

How Can An Autism Assistance Dog Help with Independence?

Much like the dogs in the Guide Dog program, the dog is trained to stop at kerbs, steps and stairs and responds to vocal commands such as ‘left’ and ‘right’. This assists with independent mobility, such as walking to school by allowing the child to walk freely alongside the dog, while remaining safe and extending access to a wider variety of environments.

In addition to providing child safety-support, AADs are trained to assist the parent/carer with behaviour management within the home through companionship. The dog helps to calm the child, reducing episodes of sensory overload, “meltdowns” and interruptive, repetitive behaviour patterns.

Some reported family benefits have included:

  • Improved quality and quantity of sleep
  • Lower overall stress levels
  • Increased independence
  • Easier transition between environments
  • Increased numbers of outings and social interactions

How Can I Apply For An Autism Assistance Dog?

If you are interested in participating in the AAD program or have any further questions, please contact Guide Dogs WA on guidedogenquiries@guidedogswa.com.au or telephone 9311 8202.

We will complete a short initial telephone assessment, followed by a more indepth telephone interview. Pending eligibility, we will follow up with the relevant AAD application form.

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