Experiences of family life with an autism assistance dog
Claire Smyth Science teacher, Dundalk, Ireland
Eamonn Slevin Reader in nursing, University of Ulster
Placing specially trained dogs in families that have a child with autism can bring many benefits. Claire Smyth and Eamonn Slevin evaluated parents’ views from a study in Ireland
This article examines the day-to-day experiences of parents living with an assistance dog for their autistic child, and that of the whole family. Seven such parents were interviewed after an assistance dog had been placed with their families to support their child. From the responses, seven main themes were identified: safety, freedom, skills acquirement, family cohesion, social acknowledgement, companionship and concerns.
The children benefited with regard to safety, companionship, positive social acknowledgement and development of motor skills. Benefits for parents and family included decreased anxiety about the child’s safety, reduced the number of child tantrums, increased family outings and positive social acknowledgement. Concerns included the maintenance of dog training, feeding, grooming, exercise and toileting, the dog’s eventual ageing and death, and the danger that the child might not understand that not all dogs are as helpful and friendly as assistance dogs. There was agreement that overall the presence of the assistance dog had considerably improved the whole family’s quality of life.
Learning Disability Practice. 13, 4,12-17. doi: 10.7748/ldp2010.05.13.4.12.c7758