A new online service from UK-wide charity Dogs for Good, which supports families with an autistic child, says the pandemic has meant demand for its service has recently doubled.
Dogs for Good makes life-changing differences for people with disabilities. Its innovative Family Dog service offers help and advice to families with an autistic child so they can get the most out of their relationship with a pet dog.
Prior to the pandemic, Family Dog workshops were held face-to-face in various locations across the country, but lockdown and restrictions made this impossible. Adapting the workshops to an online format has meant that the team at Dogs for Good have been able to continue to support the many families that had booked workshop places.
“Covid-19 has undoubtedly given rise to the amount of people struggling with their mental health and the effects of this are even more sharply felt by families of an autistic child. We know how dogs can help to shift focus, reduce anxiety and manage autistic behaviours in children. But it doesn’t happen by magic. It’s so important to get the right guidance, help and support to ensure that bringing a dog into a family with an autistic child is a positive step for both two legs and four. And that’s where Family Dog workshops come in.”Dogs for Good Family Dog Instructor, Hannah Beal
Willow and Hudson
The Kelly family, have attended Family Dog workshops after they welcomed Willow, a beautiful one-year-old black Labrador, to their family in November 2019, to help their youngest son Hudson, who is autistic.
Initially, Hudson's parents, Donna and Alan, were going to apply for an autism assistance dog from Dogs for Good, but they then found out about their Family Dog service and decided this option would work better for them.
After getting Willow they attended one face-to-face Family Dog workshop at the end of 2019 and learned many things including what to consider when choosing a breed of dog, how much exercise it may need, and the financial costs. Then Covid restrictions meant that in-person workshops could not go ahead.
Donna said they felt in limbo after the workshops were postponed but the virtual replacement has worked really well.
“We were really looking forward to attending the workshops and hoping to see lots of demonstrations and have the opportunity to try things out in person. However, it was only a few weeks before Dogs for Good came up with the new concept of running virtual workshops and we were so relieved and thankful. It really made such a difference just to know that we could still participate and get that support and ask questions.Donna Kelly
“The online courses are really easy to access, they have excellent content and the Dogs for Good team are really friendly and made me feel very welcome. I found the videos really helpful and I liked having the opportunity to re-watch them, especially when studying what was happening with a dog’s behaviour. Sometimes you spot more details when you replay a clip, so that was incredibly helpful.”
How the service helps the whole family
Dogs for Good’s Family Dog workshops provide parents of children with autism with the advice and long-term support needed for choosing and training a dog to benefit the whole family.
Ten-year-old Hudson’s autism means that he struggles to engage with people and has limited social skills making it harder for him to make friends and life used to be really lonely for Hudson before he got Willow. Hudson also has difficulty interpreting what people say and mean which can lead to misunderstandings and makes him feel anxious and worried.
Donna said: “Willow doesn't ask awkward or confusing questions. She doesn't place demands upon Hudson so he naturally gravitates towards her for comfort and companionship. Wherever he is, she will go. Willow has a very calming and soothing presence on Hudson and seems to be able to turn his upset into smiles and laughter. Hudson says Willow makes every day better for him and makes him feel safe.”
Hudson finds school very hard and even at a young age he tried to avoid going at every opportunity. He’s also struggled with his mental health from the age of five which takes him to some very dark places at times.
Donna: “It’s heartbreaking to see him in such distress and not really knowing how to help him. The world is a very frightening place for Hudson. He’s very sensitive to the way people speak to him and he’s afraid at night because he sees scary shapes in the dark.
“He’d been asking for a dog for a long time and we noticed that his personality changed when he was around his grandparents’ dog on holidays. It was one of the few things that put a smile on his face.”
Willow has been trained to respond to the command, ‘Find Hudson’ and they taught Willow to do a head rest on cue by using a video from Dogs for Good.
“If Hudson’s had a bad day at school and he’s upset Willow will go and comfort him. She sits on the floor with him and puts her head on his lap for as long as it takes, sometimes for as long as an hour, until he feels better. She knows instinctively what to do to calm Hudson down. He’s very tactile and likes to be close to Willow and stroke her, it helps to soothe him and feel calmer.Donna Kelly
“I love the idea of having lifelong membership with Dogs for Good, and knowing that if we ever need some advice we can get in touch and get some help, likewise if we want to share our special experiences. I feel confident going forward and I'm really looking forward to a happy future with our lovely Willow and who knows what we might achieve!”
For more information about Family Dog visit: dogsforgood.org/how-we-help/family-dog/
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