Dogs Woody and Kiva who are being trained by Aileen Foley.

Throw them a bone...

35 families are stuck in limbo and cannot avail of services which would hugely help them.

That was the sentiment of Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland (AADI) who has been providing communities with its autism assistance programme for more than a decade.

These dogs are trained to provide children with more independence and freedom of life, and to keep them safe.

A tough fundraising climate means the programme to train these specialised dogs is at risk. These dogs are vital to parents and families with an autistic child with a flight trigger response. They provide a sense of ease to the parent while out and about with their child.

A part time trainer with the charity, Aileen Foley, said: “The primary function of the dogs is the safety aspect. The children are physically attached to the dog, so we train the dogs to be an anchor for the child if their flight response is ever triggered, and they try to run away.

“The child feels like they’re walking the dog as they have a handle, and this breaks the tension between parent and child while out and about. As a result, generally the children stop trying to run away within about 2 weeks.”

If their fight response is triggered and they end up with a full-blown tantrum, having a furry friend on hand gives the child something to focus on and can get them out of that tantrum quicker by giving them a little nudge.

“These dogs provide the children with a constant in a moving environment. The environment might change but the dog will always stay the same,” she explained. “Some children will develop a beautiful connection with the dog, and they have constant contact at home and outside.”

Once the dog is matched with a family, the primary carer of the child will become the primary carer of the dog and will take part in some of the training of the dog before bringing them home.

At home the dog will need further daily training integrated into their work, and from there, the charity will do multiple home visits within the first few weeks.

The home visits will gradually become less frequent until it is only once a year. But the original dog trainer is always available over the phone if the child or carer needs any further assistance with the dog.

One such parent spoke to us about what it is like to have an autism assistance dog in the home.

They said: “Our dog is paired with one of our children, but all three of my kids benefit from him. The dog is with us all the time and comes to collect my son from school every day and that’s where we would attach the two to walk from the school back to the car,” he added.

“The dog has made school collections way easier, as there is no initial fear of my son running around a corner away from me where I can’t see him.

“I would tell other parents, that if your child is a flight risk, then this would be of huge benefit to you and your child to keep them out of danger,” the parent explained.

To ensure these parents and children get the assistance dogs they so badly need, Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland must raise an additional €100,000 by year-end.

Otherwise, the dog training programme may be greatly reduced.