An evaluation of the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind (IGDB) Assistance Dogs programme for families of children with Autism in Ireland

Animal assisted therapy (AAT) and the use of assistance dogs (service dogs) has received growing attention as a means of aiding children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind launched the first assistance dogs programme for familites of children with autism in Ireland in 2005.  Assistance dogs provide an environmental safety mechanism whereby the dog is trained to prevent a child from ‘bolting’, and will alert parents to threats in the home and community environment.  Other benefits of assistance dogs include improved social interactions and psychological well-being. There is now increased interest in establishing the efficacy of assistance dogs programmes. 

Professor Ivan Perry and Dr. Louise Burgoyne are undertaking a study with the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind (IGDB) looking at the impact of their Assistance Dogs programme on families of children with Autism.  

Project Aim

To evaluate the impact of having an assistance dog on the quality of life of parents/guardians and families with children who have autism.

Project Objectives

  1. Measure quality of life indicators in parents/guardians with ASD who have an assistance dog (treatment) and in parents/guardians of children with ASD who are on the waiting list for an assistance dog (control).
  2. Measure safety from environmental hazards in the child with ASD in families who have an assistance dog (treatment) and in families who are on the waiting list (control).
  3. Compare quality of life and environmental indicators in treatment and control groups.
  4. Measure essential family demographics: over all learning level of child with ASD and any specific programmes, current treatments/interventions.
  5. Explore with parents, the impacts of having an assistance dog on sociability and communication skills in children
  6. Explore the impact of having an assistance dog on day to day family life.
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