Life-changing programme for children with autism forced to close its wait list for a second time

Irish Guide Dogs was forced to close its waiting list for its Autism Assistance Dog Programme for a second time in March 2014 due to a massive over-demand for its service. The national charity’s Assistance Dog Programme supports children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The primary function of an Assistance Dog is to help a child by acting as a safety aid and promoting calmness.

Irish Guide Dogs was forced to close its waiting list for the first time in Summer 2012 when the waiting time for the service grew to five years. The charity worked tirelessly to get this number to a more manageable level and was Noah Coughlan with Picasso the dog.  Boat Strand Cove, Co Waterford.delighted to reopen the list in January 2014. Within the first hour there were 30 applications.

“We allowed the wait list to remain open until the waiting list grew to a 2-3 year time period; any longer and it is not a sustainable list,” said Padraig Mallon, CEO with Irish Guide Dogs. “We are most certainly disappointed that we had to close the list again. I would like to thank our dedicated staff and volunteers, particularly our dog trainers and instructors who really worked hard to clear the waiting list and to train as many people as possible. And we look forward to working with the families who are currently on the list.”

Currently the charity does not have the financial or human resources to grow the programme to meet the over-demand for the service. Irish Guide Dogs receives 80% of its income from fundraising initiatives and voluntary donations. State funding amounts to 20% – with statutory funding for the Assistance Dog Programme having been cut significantly in the past few years.

“The 240 families in Ireland who currently have one of our Assistance Dogs tell us of the many tangible benefits of having a dog and how it has changed their everyday lives for the better,” said Mr Mallon. “Our Assistance Dog Programme has an important programme that helps children and the wider family unit.”

Irish Guide Dogs was the first organisation to bring the Assistance Dog programme to Europe in 2005. In 2013 the Irish Guide Dogs Assistance Dog Programme was independently evaluated by University College Cork which found that the programme has significant benefits for parents and guardians of children with ASD. This research is soon to be published in the British Medical Journal.

For more information, to donate or to volunteer check out To support the work of Irish Guide Dogs text WOOF to 57500 to donate €2.50


Case studies

Sheila McNally, an artist who is married to Colm Mac Con Iomapire of The Frames, explains the impact of having an Assistance Dog Cassie for their son Darach 

It’s just a year since we got our wonderful Assistance Dog Cassie. Our son suffers from Fragile X Autism (a genetic type) which comes with huge social anxiety to the point where he could take fright and run off if we so much as meet someone on the street. He could run into the road or just disappear on us; we were living on the edge of our nerves. I have often had to abandon his brother in a shop to chase after him.

I always knew an Assistance Dog would help him but I had no idea just how much! Cassie is a calming influence on him in every situation, and as a result the whole family can breathe easier. We’re all less stressed! We can look forward to so many previously impossible daily outings, family occasions and holidays because we have her. And because Darach feels safer with her he is more likely to say hi to people we meet…or he can always hide underneath her!

He’ll do a lot of things if Cassie ‘says so’ that are often a battle for us otherwise. It’s hard to express how life changing she has been for him, for us as parents and also for his little brother who was having to bear too much responsibility for his young years. Irish Guide Dogs has given us back a quality of life and ability to participate in life that we thought we had lost.

Donna Coughlan explains the benefits on her son Noah having Assistance Dog Picasso

Picasso has had a huge impact on Noah’s life and has made an immense difference to our whole family. Noah was always a flight risk. If you weren’t holding his hand, he’d just run off. And you’d have to chase after him. It was quite scary, you couldn’t take your eyes off him for a minute. But since he got Picasso, you don’t have to hold his hand all the time. He’s attached to Picasso’s jacket, so he feels bigger and more mature and is happier to walk along. And you know that he can’t run off on you.


What are Assistance Dogs?

Assistance Dogs are trained specifically to work with children with autism. The primary function of an Assistance Dog is to help a child by acting as a safety aid and promoting calmness.  These constant companions can have a dramatic impact on the behaviour and quality of life of children.

Outings to public places become less stressful, families enjoy greater freedom and mobility, and children who have previously been very ‘shut in’ often begin to open up to the world around them.

Some of the changes children experience include:

  • Talking to people for the first time
  • Joining in activities for the first time
  • Being able to learn new things
  • Greater sense of responsibility
  • More confidence & independence

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