Parents Autism Workshops and Support (PAWS) is an aptly named project initiated by the charity, Dogs for the Disabled.
The inspired aim of PAWS is to introduce parents of children with autism into a cooperative venture, sharing not only valuable experience, knowledge and mutual support, but with the additional purpose of exploring the benefits a companion dog may bring for the diagnosed child and the family.
The prior work of Dogs for the Disabled has established that a special chemistry between a child and a dog can be positively utilized. The occurring interaction can naturally influence conducive management of challenging behaviour and elicit the improvement of symptoms of the condition. Dogs for the Disabled state that “whilst for some children there will be a clear need for a fully trained assistance dog, a well trained family pet dog can also have a massively beneficial impact”.
PAWS workshops therefore come into play, enabling this relational canine/human resource to be widely available and acknowledged.
The workshops welcome all parents of children aged between 3 and 16 years, who have a clinical diagnosis of autism, whether they already have a pet dog or not.
Professionals or those with a personal interest in autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are also able to attend to discover the therapeutic impact a companion dog can provide for those diagnosed.
Workshops are available nationwide and many are held at a local Dogs Trust Centre. It is expected that participants attend the series of three, one day sessions over a period of three months. Through demonstrations, discussion, experiential learning and specific handouts, the workshops cover:
• Questions you might have about owning a pet dog
• How dogs can help a child with autism
• Selecting the right dog to live with a child with autism
• Options for finding a suitable pet dog
• Things to think about when training a dog
• Selecting an appropriate training club/trainer
• Dog welfare and equipment needs
After the series of workshops is completed, PAWS offer ongoing, long-term support through their widening network of media, telephone, online forum and family support provision.
The multifaceted and revealing results of PAWS work is highly encouraging. In particular it is noted that a friendly dog can have a calming effect when a child is angry, and help to sooth them when they are distressed.
Dogs often have spontaneous success in distracting a child from disruptive and harmful behaviours, maximizing opportunities for any necessary adult intervention.
On the PAWS website you can learn about actual families who have participated in the project. The families describe heart-warming incidents of productive interplay between companion pet and child that greatly improves the quality of family life, whilst freely accessing the relational advantages the dog provides throughout everyday, and usual routine activities.
You can read about The Evans Family and Obi their 6-year-old Jack Russell and friend to 14-year-old Christian, who now attends a mainstream school. Christian was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and OCD to compound the family situation, but having Obi around has facilitated so many measurable improvements.
The stories are described in the family’s own words and include occurrences such as finding that a child with an aversion to brushing their teeth will happily co-operate when the dog’s teeth are also brushed!
The invaluable techniques developed and taught by PAWS are proving a naturally humorous and effective tool that has already helped more than 200 families overcome the challenges of autism.