Autism Dogs

These puppies aren't just cute and cuddly; they're in training to help change lives. "The demand and the difference these animals are making is absolutely extraordinary" Guide dogs have been the sight impaired's best friend for years. But only in South Australia are Labradors and golden retrievers being trained to assist autistic children and their families. Kate says "We've got children who were non communicative who are now talking, children who were trying to abscond who are now not doing that as much, we are seeing some real changes in families"

"He's functionally non-verbal he won't ask for a drink, he won't ask for something to eat, he won't let you know that he needs to go to the toilet, he'll grab you by the hand and lead you to the fridge and you need to work out what he wants" Little LP was diagnosed with the neurobiological disorder when he was just 15 months old. "He was babbling a lot speech delay, ignoring you as he walked past you and me kept saying he'll be ok, Paul picked it up before I did" Parents Paul and Chantel tried every therapy that was on offer to help him. But five year old LP still struggles with communication.

Paul says "in the last couple of months we've managed to get a few words from him, a few sentences and it is progressing it's very very slow. It's heart breaking sometimes you want to hear him say I love you have to say it back to him 100 times and he'll say I love you, you know he cares about you" But as any parent of an autistic child knows, safety is the biggest concern. "He'll run in front of the cars without a second thought he won't be aware that that's going to hurt him, he isn't aware that that the car is going to be there he just knows he is running, he's in that moment" Paul says. It's been life changing for Paul, Chantel and their nine other children. "We've got flood lights security cameras, we've got the gates we've got deadlocks it's all about LP, keeping him safe" But since hearing about the autism assistance dog program, they're hoping that may change.

Guide dog SA CEO Kate Thiele piloted the program three years ago. Now there's 14 trained dogs in Adelaide making a difference to the lives of families living with autism. "If we can get an autism assistance dog in there with their families we have a chance to change their behaviours" And these sweet puppies are the latest litter autism assistants, about to embark on their first phase of training. Tracey Jones is the program manager. "It takes about 18 months for every stage of an autism assistance dogs training from when they're developed in here in our puppy centre then out with the family and then training around about 18 months of age when they are matched and placed with the family" Where they are prepared to handle any situation. "If the child starts to get stressed about certain situations and undertaken behaviours the parent wants to stop then the dog is trained to do a touch or a contact which just distracts the child from what they are doing and calms them down" And also take the fear out of family outings. "If the child tries to run off, what we train the dogs to do is drop like an anchor" But on top of safety. They become true companions. The program is funded entirely by guide dogs SA who rely on the generosity of the community. "For each guide dog autism assistance dog, it costs 30 thousand dollars to train that dog and place each animal" For families like the Walters, an autism assistance dog would be life altering. We will continue to follow the progress of this litter, as any one of these pups could be the match made in heaven for little LP.

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