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autism Right: Susan Clark practices contact training with a young dog. Below: Vespa practices dog distraction with Buster the Pug, image courtesy Guide Dogs SA/NT. Breakthroughs bringing joy Guide Dogs SA/NT has designed its Autism Assistance Dog program to improve quality of life for children with autism and their families by focussing on three key areas: safety, independence and inclusion. T he organisation trains around “We want to make sure the dog a dozen Autism Assistance remains relaxed and comfortable, Dog. The child had severe autism and Dogs each year, with the dogs that it’ll happily lie there and continue was completely non-verbal. When we undergoing an intensive training and chewing its bone. We also check that met, he couldn’t go outside because assessment process. they don’t mind being leaned over he couldn’t bear anything touching or handled – the training should be him,” she said. Supervisor of Dog Services, Susan Clark, said Autism Assistance Dogs enjoyable for them.” “Two years later, this same little “Autism Assistance Dogs need to being a very mellow, relaxed animal, be laid back… we want a very chilled Autism Assistance Dog for the dog’s with no hearing or body sensitivity. dog. It’s completely different to the health check. They had travelled drive we look for in a Guide Dog.” in on the train, which alone was the dogs into our training room and Guide Dogs SA/NT places Autism boy came into the office with his an achievement. The child was simulate meltdowns, like screaming, Assistance Dogs with eligible families, interacting comfortably with the vet, crying and throwing things around, to providing full training and support with me, and with the whole office. see how the dog reacts,” Susan said. at no cost to the family. For children When you witness such a change, aged three to eight who are non- and when the parents start to see the verbal, the program offers a unique possibilities – see their child start to opportunity for social inclusion and have those wins – it’s really something. participation. Susan said “the absolute joy of Autism Assistance Dog program is the way the world opens up for siblings Autism Assistance Dog can bring” as well. Brothers and sisters who makes a difference not just for previously might have missed out on children with autism, but for their everyday experiences can now enjoy whole family. social activities and have quality time “I remember the breakthrough we autism “Another positive outcome of the independence and inclusion that an saw with one of the first young clients C M Y CM MY CY require special qualities that include “During assessment, we bring 24 we matched with an Autism Assistance as a family.” CMY K