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Assistance dogs for children with autism available again after three-year wait

The last time the Irish Guide Dogs charity accepted applications was 2013.

Image: Conor McCabe

APPLICATIONS FOR A dog programme that can aid children with autism are being accepted for for the first time in three years.

Irish Guide Dogs is set to open its Assistance Dog’s Programme for families of children with autism on Monday 14 November at 9am to new applicants.

The national charity made the decision to close applications to their Assistance Dog Programme in 2013 due to the level of demand at that time. Since the list closed, Irish Guide Dogs has provided 137 families of children with autism an assistance dog.

Enhances skills

Launched in 2005, the Irish Guide Dogs Assistance Dog Programme was the first of its kind in Europe. Assistance Dogs help to control and improve the behaviour of children with autism by promoting calm and acting as a safety aid to the parent.

The dog acts as a constant companion and enhances the child’s social skills and interaction with family and peers.

Assistance dogs are trained specifically to work with children with autism and can have a dramatic impact on the behaviour and quality of life of children.

According to Irish Guide Dogs, outings to public places become less stressful, families enjoy greater freedom and mobility, and children who have previously been very ‘shut in’ often begin to open up to the world around them.

Some of the changes children experience include talking to people for the first time; joining in activities for the first time; being able to learn new things; greater sense of responsibility; more confidence and independence.

Photo of Zeta in Jacket

The Assistance Dog Programme includes a number of changes this year, including a more narrow access criteria based on age; now only children between the ages of four and seven are eligible to apply.

The application system has also moved online to speed up the process and reduce waiting times for new families.

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These new developments mean families who qualify will be taken into the programme on an annual basis in the hope that it will significantly reduce the distressing waiting times.

Speaking on the launch of the new programme David McCarthy, Client Engagement and Services Manager, said:

“It is very exciting to be able to offer our enhanced programme to a new set of families. We have worked with autism specialists and UCC experts to develop our programme to make it sit better with the other services families will be receiving.

“We have brought this drive and innovation to our new programme and we feel strongly that it will give families a new perspective and a more fulfilled life together.”

Source: Irish Guide Dogs/YouTube

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