April 2 is recognised as the World Autism Awareness Day – and April 1-7 marks the World Autism Awareness Week. In fact, this entire month is observed as the World Autism Awareness Month. Vantika Singh tells us more about this since, she says, “Autism is a cause close to my heart as my son was diagnosed with it at the age of three.” (Read about her previously published story here.)
“Animals are like autistic savants. Animals have special talents that normal people don’t. The same way autistic people have special talents normal people don’t. Normal people can stare at an animal doing something brilliant and have no idea what they’re seeing. Animal genius is invisible to the naked eye.” Temple Grandin
This quote certainly holds value as many autistic children prefer nature, animals or music to human contact and interaction, which can, at times overwhelm their senses.
Stiftung Schweizerische Schule für Blindenführhunde is a non-profit foundation based in Allschwil (canton Basel) that provides Autism Service Dogs to individuals and families in Switzerland dealing with Autism.
Gèrard Guye, who heads the chair of management, administration and PR at the foundation tells us more about the services of the foundation.
How can dogs help an autistic child or adult?
An autism service dog has similar duties to that of a guide dog for the blind. For instance, the dog stops at zebra crossings and helps to keep the individual away from dangers. The dog guides and accompanies the child and simultaneously follows the commands given by a trusted adult person. These dogs have access to areas which are normally restricted to them. For example – a doctor’s clinic, a shopping centre, hair salon, school, etc.
Children who have difficulty in communicating find a patient listener in their dogs. The child will repeatedly find opportunities for contact with the dog without being the centre of attention. An autism service dog helps the family to lead a more or less normal life and prepares the child to live within the social boundaries. On a specific command called “ponte” the dog lies over the legs of a sitting person to calm him or her down.
Individuals can rely on their four-legged friends.
What breed of dogs are trained at the foundation and what is the duration of training?
We train Labrador Retrievers for 6 and 9 months. The duration also depends on the type of programme. We have specific training sessions for autism service dogs, guide dogs or assistance dogs.
Can you elaborate on the training process of the dog with a family dealing with Autism?
The trained dogs are given to families when they are about two years old. The new owners are prepared and trained by our instructors during an introduction week at a convention center in Muttenz, Basel. At the end of this week, the animals are introduced to the child and the family. The following week, our instructors go to the family‘s home and supervise the smooth integration of the dog into the family which entails a few more weeks. The families are monitored regularly during the first year. This is followed up by regular yearly visits. For any queries regarding our services or to know more about programs, parents can attend one of our monthly visitation days in Allschwil and get to know more about these special canines.
How many dogs are available to assist autistic individuals in a year?
We have around 5-6 professionally trained dogs available every 9 months. This number can go up to around 10-12 dogs the following year. It all depends on the availability of suitable dogs that can be trained.
Is this foundation located only in the German part of Switzerland or do you have other facilities in the French and the Italian parts of the country as well?
Our foundation is only located at Allschwil in the German part of Switzerland at the moment, but we provide our services everywhere in Switzerland.
In 2015, Saloni Duggal established an ethical brand Protsaah that specialises in jewellery, shawls and home decor products made by artisans from all around the world who are living in conflict zones like India, Tibet, Afghanistan etc. This year, Protsaah has decided to donate 10% of its sales during the Autism Awareness Month of April to the Dogs for Autism Foundation.
I, Vantika, request you to support these wonderful creatures that ease the lives of families affected by autism. Please buy a beautiful Protsaah product which embodies an equally noble thought. Your small purchase can have a big impact on society… A society where people are brave enough to talk about autism, curious enough to understand that it is not a “disease”, but a spectrum, and conscious enough to support children and families affected by it.
Your approach would help break barriers between individuals and create room for more positivity, progress and a prodigious future for the autistic.
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