What is the Autism Assistance Dog program?
Guide Dogs WA provides highly trained Autism Assistance Dogs and individualised training for children and their families. Ongoing visits from our team continue for the duration of the dog’s working life to ensure your family is well supported.
An Autism Assistance Dog is very different from a pet or a Companion Dog. Autism Assistance Dogs have legal public access rights, which means they can accompany you in public places such as shopping centres, libraries, restaurants and sports centres.
Your family must be able to demonstrate a need for support in the community in order to be suitable for an Autism Assistance Dog.
An Autism Assistance Dog does not replace allied health therapy and we want to ensure the best treatment options have been explored for your child. You need to have accessed regular allied health therapy (occupational therapy, speech pathology and/or psychology) for over 12 months before being considered for an Autism Assistance Dog.
How might an Autism Assistance Dog help?
An Autism Assistance Dog can improve quality of life for both the child and their family by improving social participation, inclusion, connectedness, independence and safe community access.
An Autism Assistance Dog is trained to assist with behaviour management and can help calm the child, reduce episodes of sensory overload and interrupt behaviour patterns.
An Autism Assistance Dog can also help with the child’s safety. Some children have a substantially lower awareness of danger and may have a tendency to abscond during times of anxiety or stress. Everyday activities like shopping, walking to school, going to a playground, visiting friends or going to a café can be challenging or simply not possible.
When walking with an Autism Assistance Dog, the parent is in control of the dog at all times and holds the dog’s lead while the child holds a special handle on the dog’s coat. The dog is trained to stop at kerbs and respond to vocal commands from the parent such as ‘left’ and ‘right’ or when it is safe to cross the road.
The dog provides constant and consistent support wherever the child goes. Some of the benefits reported by families with Autism Assistance Dogs include:
- Increased outings with the entire family
- Easier transitions between settings
- Reduced stress levels
- Improved social interactions
- Increased independence
- Improved quality and quantity of sleep
What is involved in getting an Autism Assistance Dog?
The program is available to families living in Perth with children aged between 3 and 15 years of age who have accessed over 12 months of continuous allied health therapy. Please be aware that we cannot accept children who have challenging behaviours such as physical outbursts (e.g. hitting, biting, kicking) towards animals.
Our specialised Assistance Dog team complete a thorough assessment, which involves developing a profile of your child, a home assessment, basic dog handling skills and parent education, a local walk and a community based assessment.
There is a cost for this assessment which can be funded through your NDIS funds.
You may also be requested to complete a block of Dog Assisted Therapy. This can be beneficial for children who are hesitant around dogs or to help us further assess your suitability.
Please be aware that not all families who are assessed for an Autism Assistance Dog will be deemed suitable. Our team will provide alternative recommendations when required.
Waitlist and Matching
Matching a dog to a child and their family is a complex process. It can take over 12 months for a suitable dog to become available and complete its training.
Training and ongoing support
A two-week intensive training program is provided once a family is matched with a dog. The first week involves five full days of training with the parent and the dog. The second week requires the child to be present for an additional five days of training to consolidate the skills from week one and to focus on family centered goals.
The training program is followed by an Assistance Dogs International public access test.
Following successful completion of training, aftercare visits are provided by our team each month for 6 months and then yearly thereafter. Assistance Dogs International require a yearly repeat assessment to maintain public access rights.
What is the process to apply for an Autism Assistance Dog?
You will need to:
- Ensure you have previously accessed over 12 months of continuous allied health therapy for your child
- Complete the Autism Assistance Dog application form and upload in the submission form below.
- Provide a report confirming an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis
- Provide a Functional Assessment Report or a Behaviour Support Plan for your child if you have one.
A Functional Assessment determines current level of functioning, strengths and challenges, goals for the future and recommendations.
A Behaviour Support Plan is a comprehensive assessment and intervention plan that focuses on truly understanding and addressing a child’s needs, their environment and overall quality of life.
These reports and plans help us to ensure that an Autism Assistance Dog is indeed the best option for your family.
If you have any queries, please contact us via email or call us on (08) 9311 8202.