We’re regularly asked how does an autism assistance dog make a difference – what do they actually do? Maybe it’s because it’s easy to see how a dog offers practical help to someone with a physical disability; if you drop something on the floor and you can’t easily pick it up then it’s obvious that you could train a dog to help. But what about an autism assistance dog? What are they trained to do?
When we asked 10 year old Jake how his autism assistance dog Rishi makes him feel, he only needed one word to answer.
Rishi made Jake feel safe. So how do you train a dog to help a child with autism feel safe?
Rishi’s training started when he was just a few weeks old. Thanks to his fantastic socialisers, Rishi had a year of learning all about the world around him in order to help him be calm and relaxed dog wherever he went. Rishi would go to shops, cafes, on public transport, schools and sporting events helping him to get used to the many different sights, sounds and smells he would experience as a working dog.
When he commenced his training at Dogs for Good’s national training centre in Banbury, Rishi’s exceptionally calm manner meant that he was ideally suited to become an autism assistance dog. His instructors taught him how to work in harness alongside a child and parent and sense if a child was about to bolt. Rishi was taught how to rest his head in someone’s lap – the deep pressure of the head rest would help his future partner benefit from the deep pressure and reassurance created from this technique. He would also learn to nudge using his nose, interrupting a repetitive behaviour to allow a parent to distract and support their child.
So, all Rishi’s training has prepared him to be the constant and reassuring focus that Jake needs, helping him feel safe whenever and wherever he is. As a result, Jake has been able to do everything from seeing his cricket team at Edgbaston, attending a family wedding and going on a family holiday. All things that had seemed impossible before Rishi arrived.
Watch Jake and Rishi on film.
With thanks to BBC Midlands Today