Specially trained dogs help children with autism World Autism Awareness Day (2nd April)
April 02, 2015
Australian research shows animal contact improves personal development of children with autism.
Sydney, Australia – Thursday 2nd April, 2015 – A unique way to help children with autism has been found - pair them with specially trained dogs.
Assistance Dogs Australia recently launched PAWS (Parents Autism Workshops and Support) that helps parents explore how a trained dog can help their children with autism. The success of PAWS is being celebrated on World Autism Awareness Day, an annual event held on 2nd April that encourages fundraising for projects that help people with the complex neurological disorder.
Ground-breaking research by the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition in partnership with the University of Queensland found that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) benefited from exposure to animal-assisted activities within an 8-week period.1 The study concluded that animal-assisted activities may provide a relatively simple and cost-effective means of helping educators and families improve the social functioning of children with autism. 1
Autism is estimated to affect 230,000 Australians and is often diagnosed in early childhood.2 Those with autism often have different ways of learning, paying attention and reacting to sensations.2 Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism.3,4
Assistance Dogs Australia is a national charity which trains Labradors and Golden Retrievers to offer freedom and independence for children and adults throughout Australia living with disabilities. Through an accredited training program, these incredible dogs learn how to master more than 50 specialized commands, including ways to develop the communication and empathy of a child with autism.
The charity is currently supporting 55 families across the country who have a child diagnosed with autism. Assistance Dogs Australia receives no government funding so relies heavily on the generosity of individuals and community support to carry out this work.
National Programs Manager of Assistance Dogs Australia, Alberto Alvarez-Campos, said: “Partnering trained dogs with children and young adults with autism is an approach that has brought consistently positive results. Specially trained dogs can significantly enhance a child’s self-reliance, communication skills and empathy to new situations and people.”
Australian universities, in partnership with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, have for decades conducted globally recognised research into the positive benefits of pet ownership.
Dr. Marguerite O’Haire, who conducted the research into autism and animal-assisted activities whilst at the University of Queensland, said: “Pets offer a range of physical and emotional benefits to their owners and the research shows contact with animals, such as dogs, can help improve the behaviour and social skills of children with autism. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that can help humans stay physically and emotionally healthy from childhood well into old age.”
The WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, part of Mars Petcare, has been a leading scientific authority on pet nutrition and wellbeing for over fifty years. In 2013 alone, WALTHAM® published 39 peer reviewed scientific papers.
Mars Petcare General Manager, Sylvia Burbery, said: “Mars Petcare is proud to continue our support for research into the benefits of pet ownership. PAWS is another example of how dogs can bring so much value to people’s lives and in such diverse ways.”
More information and interview requests contact:
- O’Haire, M, McKenzie, S, McCune S, Slaughter V (2013) Effects of Classroom Animal-Assisted Activities on Social Functioning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The journal of alternative and complementary medicine. Volume 20, No.3, pp 162-168
- Autism Spectrum Australia. Factsheet (accessed 11th March 2015)
- Brugha, T., McManus, S., Bankart, J., Scott, F., Purdon, S., Smith, J., et al. (2011). Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders in adults in the community in England. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(5), 459-466.
- Taylor, J., Seltzer, M. (2011). Employment and post-secondary educational activities for young adults with autism spectrum disorder during transition to adulthood. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 566-574.
Notes to Editors:
Mars Petcare Australia
Mars Petcare is the world’s leading pet food and veterinary care business that strives to make A Better World for Pets® every day. Mars Petcare believes that pets make our lives better and that pet ownership brings joy and benefits which should be accessible to everyone. Mars Petcare has a number of leading brands including PEDIGREE®, WHISKAS®, DINE®, ADVANCED®, OPTIMUM®, SCHMACKOS®, ROYAL CANIN®, EUKANUBA®, IAMS®. Key specialty brands include the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition®, a leading scientific authority on pet nutrition and wellbeing. Mars Petcare has more than 37,000 Associates worldwide.
Assistance Dogs Australia
Founded in 1996, Assistance Dogs Australia is a national charity which trains Labradors and Golden Retrievers to offer freedom and independence for children and adults throughout Australia with disability. The dogs are trained to support a range of physical and developmental disability, from paraplegia and cerebral palsy to autism and post traumatic stress disorder.
Through an accredited training program, these incredible dogs aptly learn how to master more than 50 specialized commands - from loading a washing machine and opening doors to developing the communication and empathy of a child with autism.
To train each dog to this level takes two years and costs in excess of $27,000. To date more than 190 Assistance Dogs have been placed throughout Australia, free of charge, providing up to 10 years of support for every client matched with an Assistance Dog. The charity is currently supporting 55 families across the country who have a child diagnosed with autism. The charity receives no government funding so relies heavily on the generosity of individuals and community support to carry out this work.
About the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition:
Celebrating over 50 years of innovative science, the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition serves as a leading scientific authority in advancing the frontiers of research into the nutrition and health of companion animals. Located in Leicestershire, England, the renowned state-of-the-art science institute for Mars, Incorporated generates knowledge that enables the development of innovative products that meet pets’ needs in a practical way. Since the publication of its first original research in 1963, WALTHAM® has pioneered many important breakthroughs in the field of pet nutrition and human-animal interaction, resulting in more than 1,700 publications, including over 600 peer-review scientific papers. Today, WALTHAM® continues to collaborate with the world’s foremost scientific institutes, driving Mars' Petcare vision to create a better world for pets and providing the science and expertise that underpins leading Mars brands such as WHISKAS®, PEDIGREE®, NUTRO®, TRILL®, CESAR®, SHEBA®, KITEKAT®, DREAMIES™, AQUARIAN®, WINERGY®, BANFIELD® Pet Hospital and the ROYAL CANIN brand.