Pet dogs help children with autism

England-based charity Dogs for the Disabled is delighted to announce that the first set of its ground breaking PAWS workshops ever to take place in Northern Ireland will be held in Co Antrim.

The charity urges parents of children with autism spectrum conditions (ASCs) from across the region to come along and find out more.

Any parent will know that bed-time tantrums, refusal to eat the meals you’ve lovingly prepared, toilet training troubles and teeth cleaning tears, all feature in family life from time to time. However, if your child has autism their condition can mean that these sorts of challenges can take on an altogether more serious and demanding perspective. In extreme cases it can be exhausting, demoralising and impact hugely on your relationships and other children in the family.

Over a series of three one-day workshops, the PAWS service, (Parents Autism Workshops and Support) gives parents of children with autism an opportunity to network with other parents in similar situations and through practical demonstrations, discussions, hands on learning and course handouts, the workshops provide information on choosing the right dog, welfare and care, training techniques and explore ways a dog can help families with a child with autism.

Over 200 families from England, Wales and Scotland have benefited from PAWS since its inception in 2010 and the charity is now offering this service to families in Northern Ireland.

Suzanne Walker, mother of 11-year-old Josh who has Aspergers Syndrome, attended a previous set of PAWS workshops said; “The PAWS workshops have had a massive positive impact on Josh and my whole family.

“I recommend PAWS as a great solution to managing the challenges brought to any family as a result of their child’s autism spectrum condition. The team at Dogs for the Disabled were amazing; giving advice specific to individual families’ needs. It used to be very difficult calling Josh down to get ready for school but now, because Miri our pet Jack Russell needs feeding and sorting out in the morning, he’ll be down in a flash. Miri has helped Josh’s social and emotional development greatly and it is all thanks to PAWS.”

Whilst running these workshops, the charity, in conjunction with the National Autistic Society and the University of Lincoln, is conducting ground breaking research funded by the Big Lottery Fund to identify what it is exactly about dogs that has such a positive impact on children with ASCs. Corri Wait, PAWS Research Coordinator at Dogs for the Disabled comments: “We are very excited about this research. Research of this kind has never been done before and the preliminary findings are promising: initial results suggest that dogs do enhance the enjoyment and mobility of families with children with autism. If you’d like to take part and you’re a parent of a child with autism then please do get in touch.”

Katie Bristow-Wade, PAWS Project Team Leader further explains the benefits of PAWS: “With the right support, ordinary pet dogs have the potential to transform the lives of families affected by autism. PAWS workshops identify ways a pet dog can be trained to ease the strain of bringing up a child with autism.”

This set of workshops will take place this June on Tuesday 12, Wednesday 13 and Thursday 14, from 10am to 3pm at Dogs Trust Rehomming Centre, 60 Teeshan Road, Ballymena.

Below are examples of how children with autism and their families are benefitting:

- Family walks with the dog on a dual lead allow the child to take some responsibility for the dog

- A dog trained the right way can interrupt unwanted behaviour by touching an arm or putting its head on their lap

- Dogs need their teeth cleaning and by teaching a child this, it can help a child learn about cleaning their own teeth

- Learning about a dog’s feeding routine helps to develop a child’s own mealtime routines

- One family even found they could get their child to wear his school uniform by having the dog walk to school with them wearing a school tie!

- Parents can also gain support and advice through online forums

Parents wishing to take part in the PAWS project must be able to attend all three workshops. To find out more and register visit: and click the ‘PAWS’ link. Alternatively call the PAWS team on 01295 759 836 or email: [email protected]