This week is Carers' Week! So we thought we'd ask one of our favourite organisations to contribute a post about perhaps the cutest carers of all: their specialist trained dogs for autistic people!
Autism Dogs Community Interest Company (CIC) are a unique non-for-profit company based in Congleton, Cheshire that trains Assistance Dogs for autistic people and Therapy Dogs to work in Special Educational Needs (SEN) environments within educational establishments or hospitals.
We are the first and only Assistance Dog Programme accredited by the National Autistic Society, an approved candidate member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI) / Assistance Dogs Europe (ADEu), full member of Animal Assisted Intervention International (aaii) and Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS), supporting member of the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC), and a pre-approved training school for Assistance Dogs by British Airways.
We are driven and motivated by our love of dogs and our passion for helping autistic people. By adding the wonderful benefits of a highly-trained dog into the life of an autistic person, we hope to improve their independence, and enable them to develop new skills and gain greater social confidence.
“My anxiety is rising and my dog senses this. He pushes his head against my leg. If I am already sat down, he will use his paw to signal that I need to calm down. My senses are becoming flooded with information but I can focus on the pressure of my dog resting against me. I stroke him. The sensation of soft fur and the warmth of his body is comforting. If I am at home, he will rest across my lap to provide Deep Pressure Therapy and he lets me
pick up his paws and gently run my hands through his fur, touch his ears and tail. I don’t feel the need to hit my head because the rhythm of the stroking and the weight of his body helps me to feel grounded and safe. If I do start to hit myself, (I used to do this a lot because it helped to ground me and provide soothing rhythm and pressure. This can be dangerous. Please DO NOT try this.) My dog will knock my hand with his nose or crawl underneath me to provide a barrier. Deep Pressure is even available to me in public settings. I have had a meltdown in the middle of a crowded supermarket that my dog has calmed by laying across my lap as I crouch down on the floor. If my sight is flooded with information, I can grasp the guide handle and rely on my dog to navigate me through the crowd. If I need water, my dog will fetch it for me. If I am left exhausted by the meltdown, my dog will lay on me to provide pressure and comfort as I sleep.
My dog has changed my life. My meltdowns were happening every day and were severe. They affected my whole family and also my relationship with my family, my independence and my confidence. My dog has reduced the intensity and frequency of my meltdowns so much that they are now a rare occurrence! His support helps to keep me calm and prevent the initial rise in anxiety and sensory overload. He almost always intervenes before I reach a meltdown."
As well as training the dogs, it’s important that we educate our handlers and their families the human side of the partnership to enable the partnership to be successful.
In my role as Autism Dogs CIC’s Family Services Officer, it is my job to provide our handlers and their families with information and resources to help with this. I support the families on all of our Programmes, and this support is available from the time of enrolment and throughout the lifetime of the dogs. I also gather information from our clients that will help our training team to train the dogs more effectively for our clients’ needs.
Training Autism Dogs requires each dog to undergo certain steps within the training.
Each dog needs to learn basic obedience commands, this is done with the use of words and hand signals. To begin the basic obedience, we take the dog to a separate room, where there are no distractions, so that it is easier for the dog to comprehend instructions and focus. We take plenty of videos to show the improvements made.
Alongside the basic commands, we also teach the dogs ‘Public Access’ which is where the
dogs get used to going into shops with their handlers. This means that they need to get used to all the background noises that occur and how to ignore them, this is so the dog can support the handler if they begin to struggle.
All our dogs undergo advanced tasks and these tasks differ from client to client depending on their needs. This is done in a separate room to avoid distractions so the dog can focus on the trainer. These sessions are also filmed to view progress.
The socialisation of our dogs is done both at the farm and away from the farm. This is so we can fully see what our dogs are like with other dogs they don’t know. This also teaches them important skills. How to interact with others and everything going on around them, for example.
Autism Dogs CIC can be found at:
Full post reading by Kemi Rodgers