Children & families living with autism program

Autism is a persistent developmental disorder, evident from early childhood, that affects almost 1 in every 150 Australian children. True to our pioneering nature, Assistance Dogs Australia have been on the frontline of training and placing dogs with children with autism in Australia.

Once placed with their new Assistance Dog, children with autism show remarkable improvement across their social, verbal and cognitive skills, as well as the ability to learn routines and structures that aid development, communication and community interaction.

Additionally, one of the most rewarding elements of this kind of placement is the impact our dogs have on the entire family. Often siblings of children with disabilities undergo stress and isolation from other family members, but our very special dogs have a habit of bringing families back together — providing assistance for kids in need, but also companionship, improved sleep, peace of mind and stability for the entire household.

An Autism Service Dog can provide support in the following areas:

  • Communication skills
  • Confidence and independence
  • Empathy to new situations
  • Emotional understanding
  • Social relationships
  • Tactile perception
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Provide routine and stability
  • Environmental understanding
  • Self-esteem
  • Family relationships
  • Behaviour patterns

An Autism Service Dog has full public access rights meaning they are allowed in any public place* and on all public transport. It is illegal to refuse entry to a Service Dog.

*The only exceptions are zoos, aquariums, sterile environments, food preparation areas and quarantine areas.

People who receive an Autism Service Dog are provided with a photographic identity badge as proof of Service Dog status, which they must take with them in public, and a Service Dog jacket for the dog.

Children and families living with Autism Services

PAWS Workshop

We know that each child on the autism spectrum is different, and so before applying for an Autism Service Dog, parents are required to attend a PAWS Workshop with Assistance Dogs Australia. These workshops are a great chance to meet our staff and explore how an Autism Service Dog will work within the family.

Animal-Assisted Intervention Therapy

In 2017, Assistance Dogs Australia began a pilot Animal-Assisted Intervention Therapy program with an Assistance Dog (and its trainer) involved in all sessions as the primary therapeutic tool.

Part of this program is an exciting Australian first: a research project in collaboration with The University of Sydney to look at outcomes of a therapeutic program with children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) using trained Assistance Dogs.

  1. Sessions will be play-based, with interventions divided into 3 areas:
  2. Self-care (dressing, grooming, eating), eg. preparing food for and feeding the Assistance Dog, brushing the Assistance Dog’s coat and dressing the Assistance Dog.
  3. Play (imaginative, creative, structured, musical, interactive), eg. tug-of-war, fetch, Doga (yoga with a dog!), animal hospital and emotion charades.
  4. Productivity (social skills, gross/fine motor skills, organisation/planning), eg. obstacle course, video modelling and social scripts.

The occupational therapist (OT) can tailor interventions to participants’ specific needs, and can use the Assistance Dog as an active participant in therapy or as a calming influence for the participant. Reports developed by the University of Sydney students will be submitted for publication in relevant peer reviewed journals, disseminating the study results nationally and internationally.

A number of accredited Assistance Dogs specifically trained to support children with Autism will be rotated through the project and will play an active role in the therapy sessions.

More information will be made available later this year on how to be involved in this program 2018 and beyond.

How can I apply for an Autism Service Dog?

To express your interest in an Autism Service Dog, parents must attend our PAWS workshops. 

Each Assistance Dog costs over $35,000 to train

This includes everything from purchasing a puppy to food, vaccinations, training and placement. Assistance Dogs are provided free of charge to people in need.

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