Can pet dogs help children with autism?

Can pet dogs help children with autism?An animal behaviour expert is to speak at a special conference taking place to explore the potential benefits a pet dog can bring to families with a child with autism.

Professor Daniel Mills from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln (UK), will be at the conference organised by Dogs for the Disabled, the National Autistic Society (NAS) and the University on Thursday 20th June.

Professor Mills, who has led the Lincoln research with Dr Hannah Wright, said: “This conference is a great opportunity for anyone interested in this subject to come together with like-minded individuals and not only learn about what our research is showing but also to exchange their experiences, so that we can ensure we offer the best possible advice at this time.”

Conference speakers will also include Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society; Katie Bristow-Wade, Dogs for the Disabled; Anne Memmott, Autism Consultant and Susan Aston, parent of a child with autism.

Workshops on the day will include a session for autism professionals on developing practice while setting realistic expectations on the potential impact a dog can have on families with a child with autism. Another workshop will be delivered for parents on the potential value a family dog can have in facilitating play and development for children with autism.

The conference talks and workshops will cover initial findings from the research undertaken by the University of Lincoln during a three year study, funded by the Big Lottery, which examined how and why pet dogs can have a positive impact on families with a child with autism. The research results, currently under academic review, are expected to be published later this year.

Researchers interviewed a number of families who attended Dogs for the Disabled’s innovative programme PAWS (Parents Autism Workshops and Support).

The charity, which began training assistance dogs to work with children with autism in 2008, set up PAWS in 2010 and more than 400 families have attended its workshops nationwide which demonstrate to families affected by autism the positive impact owning a pet dog can have on family life.

They have also tracked the impact of the dog on volunteer families alongside those without a dog in order to identify the specific dog effect, and are currently analysing the results of an international survey based on their initial findings. The results relate not only to the effect on the child, but also on the family more widely.

Dogs for the Disabled Chief Executive Peter Gorbing said: “The conference is an important opportunity for autism professionals and families to understand better how dogs can benefit children with autism and their families. Dogs for the Disabled is delighted at the difference its PAWS programme has made to many families with a pet dog and is keen to share what it has learnt with others.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, added: “Families often tell us that that their children respond well to the company of dogs or develop some sort of special connection, and we are keen to understand the potential benefits further for those who have the lifelong developmental disability. This conference marks the exciting first step for parents and professionals to find out more and the NAS is delighted to be involved.”

The conference is being held at Church House, London.

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Marie Daniels - PR OfficerMarie Daniels – PR Officer
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