August 14, 2018 2 min read
Yes, there really are dogs specifically trained to support children with autism. But, after a quadrupling in requests for help, charities are calling for more regulation.
In 2017, autism charities such as Dogs For Good and Support Dogs recorded 3,795 enquiries, against fewer than 950 in 2012. But this spiraling demand for free dogs has meant families looking instead for unaccredited alternatives.
Now the government has said it wants to create a UK standard for assistance dogs.
They’re trained to offer friendship and help to children with autism, a developmental disability affecting how they perceive the world and interact with others. Specially trained dogs can help those with autism stay safe and calm in busy situations and have a more independent life.
However, the National Autistic Society has warned that a poorly trained dog could make things worse for children with autism. Accredited charities offer trained dogs for free but other organisations can charge thousands of pounds.
Chairman of Dogs for Good Peter Gorbing said it would be a ‘tragedy’ if dogs weren’t fit for purpose: “They need to meet really high standards and we think some kind of public-access assessment should be the prerequisite for any dog that's going to be called an assistance dog.”
Dogs For Good can train about ten dogs a year and offers ongoing support to families. There’s an interview process to go through as soon as a space becomes available. There then follows a wait of up to a year for a dog.
Carol Povey, Director of the Centre for Autism at the National Autistic Society, said: "It is key that the dog is consistent, calm, and the child understands how the dog is going to behave at all times.”
Irish company Service Dogs Europe was investigated after complaints and shut down in 2015, leaving parents of autistic children out of pocket.