Dogs may be known as a man’s best friend but Rebecca Taylor has discovered that the animals can have amazing benefits for children and adults with autism too.
Rebecca, 45, who lives in Farington, has an eight-year-old son, Joshua, who has high functioning autism.
She is also the founder of the Junior Autism Group, which she set up three years ago.
Rebecca first suspected there was an issue when Joshua was about 22-months-old and his speech was not developing the way it should.
Joshua also displayed other first signs of autism, such as lining his toys up when playing with them.
After receiving support from professionals, such as nursery staff, health visitors and speech and language therapists, Joshua underwent an autism diagnostic observation schedule, which is a series of tests and observation, and Joshua was diagnosed as autistic.
Joshua, who is a pupil at Astley Park Special School in Chorley, has made great progress and has now been discharged from the speech and language service.
However, he has now been diagnosed with semantic pragmatic disorder, which affects the use of language in a social context.
Rebecca says: “It is all about how Joshua deals with people in social situations and about eye contact.
“A lot of children on the autism spectrum do not understand sarcasm or phrases such as ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ – they will actually go to the window and wonder why they can’t see any cats and dogs.”
Together with Kieran Welsh, headteacher at Astley Park, Rebecca attended an autism conference in Kalisz, Poland, which is twinned with Preston.
Rebecca was the international guest speaker and spoke to an audience of 150 people about what it is like to bring up a child with autism from a parent’s perspective.
While in Kalisz, Rebecca had the opportunity to visit three special schools, for both adults and children with various learning disabilities, which included autism.
Rebecca says: “One of the highlights was seeing dog therapy in action and the results were quite astounding.
“By using the specially-trained dog, they managed to get words and sentences from the children who were otherwise finding it difficult to find the language.
“Not only was it the interaction with the dog, but the therapist also used pictures with the dog in it to try and get complete and meaningful sentences from the children, and the results were delightful.”
Encouraged by what she learned in Poland, Rebecca has booked herself on to a Parents Autism Workshops and Support (PAWS) course in the UK, which is run by the charity Dogs for The Disabled.
These courses bring together parents of children with autism to share experiences and explore the potential that a pet dog might have within the family.
Rebecca says: “There are actually special autism trained dogs, but there is a very long waiting list for them, and it costs around £15,000 to £20,000 to train these dogs.
“But with the PAWS courses, you sign up to three meetings and it costs just £30.
“The PAWS courses teach you the ways of having a pet dog which can work with your child to calm all their anxieties and stress.
“You don’t even have to have a dog to go on this course and you can just benefit from the advice if you are thinking about getting a dog.”
Rebecca used to have a beagle, Max, when Joshua was about three, and she says their bond was delightful to see.
After seeing first-hand the benefits of dog therapy, Rebecca is now thinking about buying a pet dog for Joshua and is considering a beagle, a labrador/retriever or a cocker spaniel.
Rebecca says: “I am going to complete the PAWS course first and then make a decision if it is the right thing to do for Joshua.
“I try to keep things as normal as possible for Joshua, as he does not deal well with changes in routine unless I give him a lot of notice.
“However, I am hoping Joshua will be able to have a dog and that it will bring many benefits to him.”