An assistance dog is trained in specialist tasks to support a person with disabilities. Assistance dogs work in many sectors including, but not limited to, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, Epilepsy/Seizure alert, Diabetes and PTSD. All of these dogs do very important work that requires different skill-sets.
Autism Assistance dogs are specially trained to provide support to those with autism at home and in the community. Traditionally autism assistance dogs have only been used to provide physical support but we are only recently learning the vast scope of how these dogs can help children with ASD. As such, organisations training autism assistance dogs are all doing different things. The focus of our work is to support the unique social and emotional difficulties of autism, as well as improving skill sets that children with developmental difficulties struggle with using the Autism Life Dog Therapy Programme.
A combination therapy intervention using play activity with your Autism Life Dog as therapeutic opportunities designed to support your child’s development. The programme uses interactive games to learn, practice and improve important skill sets – particularly those that are especially challenging for children with autism and related developmental difficulties.
Families that have been using the therapy programme say that they see a noticeable improvement in meaningful communication and increase in vocalisations and vocabulary. The therapy programme focuses on developing communication and interaction skills and we have seen a number of our previously non-verbal children develop verbal communication skills.
Parents have also report a marked reduction in bolting/absconding when out in the community; as well as a significant reduction in anxiety, aggressive outbursts, challenging behaviour and ‘meltdowns’. There is often an overall improvement in emotional stability and an increased sense of independence and self-confidence.
Having an autism assistance dog can have a significantly positive effect on the whole family providing a common love and bond for all of the family to enjoy playful interaction with each other and able to more easily access the community.
Danielle Brook is an experienced therapist specialising in autism. She gained specialist Post-graduate studies at Sheffield Hallam University in Autism Spectrum Conditions; Sensory Integration Therapy through Cardiff University and gained diagnostic qualifications with The Institute of Child and Adolescent Mental Health and The Autism Treatment Trust. Additionally, Danielle holds diplomas in Psychotherapy and Animal-Assisted Therapy and was awarded the Laing and Buisson Independent Specialist Care Awards for Services to Autism.
Alexandra Furzer is an experienced canine behaviourist and trainer with an background in children’s early years development and play therapy. She is a qualified Animal-Assisted therapy practitioner specialising in autism and special needs and holds a diploma in Assistance Dog training.
Amanda Robinson is a qualified Animal-Assisted therapy practitioner and experienced trainer specialising in assistance dog training. She is also a Mum of a son on the spectrum and has an autism support dog as part of their family. Amanda provides a unique perspective of an expert by experience of how life changing these dogs can be for children and families with autism.
All of our team have enhanced DBS checks (formerly CRB) and are qualified and insured to work with children and adults with additional needs.
The first step would be to apply via our online application form under the ‘Apply for a Dog’ section of our website. This form will ask for information regarding your family and your hopes and needs for an autism support dog.
One we have received your application one of the team will call you to discuss it and you will be invited to attend a family interview and therapy session. This will be an opportunity for you to meet one or more of our trained autism support dogs so that you can see our programme in action and ask any questions you may have about the process. It will also give our team the chance to see how your child interacts with a therapy support dog to see if we feel it would be a beneficial programme for your family. A therapy session lasts approximately 30 – 40 minutes and costs £50.00 (£75.00 if more than one child on the spectrum/with additional needs) – this amount is taken off the deposit if you decide to go ahead with the programme.
A deposit of £1500 will enable us to start the matching process, where our team will use information gathered from your application form, the family interview and therapy session, as well as our experience, to match your family with a dog that we feel is suitable according to personality and needs. You will be invited to meet this dog (or dogs) at an Introduction and Playdate. We encourage all of the family to attend this so that you can all play and interact with the dog and get a better understanding of if it feels like the right match for you.
When a decision is made on a dog that is the right match, your dog will enter their advanced level training which takes approximately 4 weeks. Towards the end of your dog’s residential training, parents will be invited for their Family Handler Training Day, where you will learn how to work with your dog and be demonstrated all of the games, activities and interventions of the programme.
Once your dog has completed their residential training, your dog will come home with you. You will then be responsible for implementing and practising working with your dog at home and in and around your local area. We will support you with aftercare and advice to achieve a successful transition and long-term working relationship.
‘Perfect Pals‘ are dogs that we have bred, raised and trained ourselves from day one of the dog’s life.
Our breeding programme is overseen by Kennel Club Assured Breeder Jayne Jones and puppies are bred from fully health-tested parents who are part of the Autism Life Dog family. A few puppies from a litter are selected to be autism assistance dogs based on puppy temperament assessments. These puppies are then raised within our organisation, training from 8 weeks old and are placed with their forever families at the age of 10-12 months old.
‘Forever Friends‘ are dogs that we have not bred or raised ourselves but have come to us from other organisations or backgrounds. For example, some Autism Life Dogs were previously training in other disability sectors, as Search & Rescue and Gun dogs. ‘Forever Friends’ are typically placed with families at the ages of 12 – 36 months old.
As a non-profit organisation with charitable objectives we provide our service cost possible whilst maintaining the highest training standards and quality.
Autism Assistance dogs can cost upwards of £20,000 and we ask families to make a contribution to the overall training costs.
The contribution costs are as follows:
‘Forever Friends’ – £7,500.00.
‘Perfect Pals’ (previously known as the ‘Puppy Programme’) – £9,500.00.
You may also wish to purchase a Therapy Toybox at a cost of £250.00 which contains all of the toys and games needed to play the Autism Life Dog Therapy Programme.
A specialist autism assistance dog harness can be purchased for £125.00 and handle attachment at £35.00.
Please also consider the on-going food, health and insurance costs of having a dog, which is estimated around £1500.00 per year.
We will do what we can to support your fundraising with advice and guidance. Whilst fundraising might seem like an overwhelming task, many of our families have successfully raised the contribution money for their dogs and there are a few pathways that we can recommend for you. Please get in touch with us and request a fundraising pack for more information.
No – a deposit will secure your place on our waiting list and will allow us to start the assessment and matching process. The remaining contribution is divided into two instalments: the first due once we have jointly decided on the dog matched for your family and they go into their advanced level training. The second instalment is due on or before the Transition Day, when your dog comes home with you.
We do our best to work with families all over the UK and have two trainers who are based in Yorkshire and East Sussex covering the north and south. For all programmes other than the bespoke training programme you will be required to travel to one of those locations to attend your Introduction and Play-date; Handler Training Day, Transition Day and for any follow-up training sessions. Handler training to include community access preparation is done over a day and a half and it may be that you need to consider staying overnight locally. We do not recommend children attend the Parent Handler training sessions and therefore you will need to consider child care options to attend training.
For the bespoke training programme you will be required to travel for a skills assessment and to bring and collect your dog from residential training either in Yorkshire or Sussex.
The ADI (Assistance Dogs International) have long been the accrediting body for assistance dog training organisations. With the changes and developments in the assistance dog sector in the last 10 years, there is a need to reform accrediting standards, not just in the UK but standardised throughout Europe. The CEN/TC 452 Assistance Dog & Guide Dog Teams Standards and Instructors Competences are currently being developed. The scope of CEN/TC 452 is to develop European standard(s) in the field of assistance dogs, users and training staff. Committees of experts in this sector have been formulated in each European country, who will be responsible for advising and developing the new standards. Autism Life Dogs is a member of the committee providing the UK input and we will be following these new standards as they are being developed.
Autism Life Dogs are currently in the process of gaining membership of the AAII (Animal-Assisted Interventions International). The AAII is a newly-developed sister organisation of ADI to act as a standards body for organisations working in Animal-Assisted therapy (AAT), Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) and Animal-Assisted Education (AAE). For further information on AAII please visit their website www.aai-int.org.
Our aim is to help as many children and families with autism as we can and that our programme is beneficial for.
All applicants will be considered regardless of race, sex, religion, creed, age or any other categories protected by law. Whilst we do not have an age limit for applications, please note that our therapy programme is based around children’s developmental milestones and therefore the optimum age bracket is between the ages of 3 – 16 years old.
A family must genuinely want and enjoy the companionship of a dog and want to create a close working relationship with a canine partner. You must also have the resources and finances to be able to adequately care for a dog. We are not able to place an autism assistance dog in a household where the primary carer works outside of the family home.
It is not always appropriate to place an autism assistance dog in a household that already has a pet dog and some families have had to consider re-homing family dog in order to have an autism assistance dog. If you already have a family dog, it may be possible for us to train that dog on our bespoke training programme.
We recognise that there is a current healthcare crisis and availability of autism diagnosis is limited. If your child does not have an autism diagnosis, or is on a waiting list for one, it may be that we can still provide an autism assistance dog. This will require us to gain information on your child’s presentation of autism, medical and educational background and to have a therapy session with one of our team to assess suitability.
Labradors are highly intelligent and enjoy training and working. More so than this, the temperament of Labradors make them excellent Forever Friends for children with autism. They are friendly, loyal and endlessly loving and affectionate. Their playfulness means they enjoy doing the therapeutic games and they are very attuned and responsive to their human’s energy.
Labradors are also unique in the fact that they have a higher level of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine which are three hormones that are responsible for social interaction, attachment and bonding. Additionally they significantly lower anxiety and stress levels which reduce challenging behaviour and ‘meltdowns’. Evidence suggests that there are lower levels of these hormones in people with autism so by having an Autism Life Dog you are getting 24/7 hormone therapy which has an immense effect on a child’s communication and social interaction skills.
For these reasons we train Labradors, Labrador mixes and Golden Retrievers for this very special work.
We do not train our dogs to work with an attachment or tether – our harnesses have a special handle attachment for a child to hold on to but are not attached. Our therapy programme focuses on using interventions to engage a child in roadside safety awareness with their dog and reducing sensory integration issues which is the root cause of bolting/absconding behaviours, with the aim of increasing awareness and personal safety rather than restricting the mobility of a child.
Yes – individual and group Animal-Assisted therapy sessions can be done with our therapists and a fully-trained therapy dog. The cost of these sessions are £35.00 and last approximately 30 minutes.
Currently these sessions can only be provided in areas local to our therapy practitioners. We are looking to bring on more therapists to be able to provide therapy sessions in other areas of the UK. Please contact us for more details.