19 December, 2007 - €500,000 For Guide Dogs For Children With Autism - Minister Hanafin

The Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin T.D., announced today that the Department of Education and Science is to provide funding of €500,000 to the 'Assistance Dogs for Families of Children with Autism Project'.

The project is designed to improve the quality of life of children with autism and their families by providing them with a guidedog and giving them the training and support they need to ensure that the dog works to the maximum of its abilities. Service dogs for children with autism work by being physically connected to the child but controlled by the parent.

In outlining the benefits of such a programme for autistic children, Minister Hanafin said "the main function of a service dog for children with autism is child safety but their contribution extends beyond this to therapeutic and communicative benefits.The children also enjoy the dog's companionship and research has shown that they exhibit a more playful mood, are more focused, and are more aware of their social environments when in the presence of a therapy dog. Parents have also reported that the participation in the programme has made them more relaxed and less stressed and improved their peace of mind."

Speaking at the launch, Mr Tom Aplin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Irish Guide Dogs said, "we are delighted to receive this financial support from the Department of Education and Science. We already work closely with the Special Education section in relation to our Child Mobility programme which provides vital training and supports to blind and vision impaired children in primary and secondary education.

The support of the Department is most welcome at a time when we are planning for the development and expansion of this service. Our aim is to double training capacity to 40 families per year within the next two years. We have a waiting list of over 80 families and it is our intention to ensure that the time spent waiting for this valuable service is minimised. Our volunteers and fundraisers have helped enormously in raising the funds to get us this far, the support of the Department is one further step in ensuring that this wonderful programme can continue."