Children with autism benefit from having trained dogs, says report

Children with autism can benefit from having a specially-trained dog — and the Government should ensure that more resources go into providing them, according to the author of a new medical study.

Researchers at UCC say they have proven that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can benefit from having a dog, particularly at a young age.

Lead researcher, Dr Louise Burgoyne of UCC’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said there was “huge merit” in the State providing more resources to provide the specially-trained dogs.

She said the research, published by the British Medical Journal, proved what had long been assumed anecdotally.

“It is an anecdotally established fact, and there had been quite a bit of qualitative research done, but when the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind were chatting to us they said ‘we hear this all the time but it is never measured’ — so we measured it,” she said.

The study analysed the responses of 80 parents with a dog and 84 from the waiting list for a dog, all of whom completed a questionnaire between October 2012 and March 2013.

The questionnaire focused on the impact of having an assistance dog, in the areas of: Child safety from environmental hazards; public acceptance and awareness of ASD; a sense of competence with managing a child with ASD; and the levels of caregiver strain.

Dr Burgoyne said the results indicated that those with a dog in the family improved the quality of life for everyone in the household.

The dog acted as kind of “bridge” between children with ASD and society — providing a calming and reassuring presence, but also providing a physical tether in outdoor environments which reduced the risk of a child “running off”.

“It brings autism into the open,” Dr Burgoyne said of dog assistance.

“Parents said that the public perception of a child [with ASD] is better with a dog.”…..

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