Animal magic and Autism
When I was a horse-mad but £-poor teenager, I signed up to help with a local Riding for Disabled children’s group in return for free rides and access to the sort of camaraderie that only a bunch of horsey girls can conjure. In time, to be fair, our selfish reasons for volunteering did become balanced by genuine enjoyment and a touch of much-needed humility from seeing the transformation that could be won from the horse-powered liberty and equine empathy we took for granted.
I remember particularly a young chap who, theoretically ‘locked’ in his world of autism, astounded us one day by launching into a perfectly rhythmic and balanced rising trot after what had felt to us like futile weeks of running alongside him and patting his legs while chanting a monotony of ‘up down, up down, up downs’. His watching mother was in bits seeing her son suddenly animated and responsive and it truly felt like miracle to us too.
After all, this was the early 1980s, when the first theories about early intervention were still a few years away, Rain Man wasn’t a glimmer in a director’s eye and most people with severe autism were kept well out of sight and society. Thankfully, the world has (somewhat) moved on and years later when I volunteered with the Equal Ark Programme in Singapore, I witnessed deeper connections and break-throughs being achieved through more structured equine-assisted learning programmes.
Yet even as recently as those 2010’s, the idea of dogs being trained as liberating partners for people with autism was quite new. Being myself by then a parent of a child with autism (and one who, with splendid irony, was allergic to horses), my chronic research for possible therapies had uncovered that this practice was emerging, but as it was largely confined to the US, we could still only gain the organic sort of canine ‘therapy’ that a friendly family dog might offer (even one that wasn’t ours – eternal thanks Sunshine Dog for offering unconditional friendship and fun).
So, when the trundl team started to look for UK charities that might perfectly align to trundl’s mission of supporting outdoor and mobility causes, we were thrilled to discover Dogs for Autism.
Still only a young charity, their dogs are already transforming many lives by enabling people with autism to more easily access the world around them and safely expand their horizons. Dogs for Autism work exclusively for the autistic population and deploy a different approach from other assistance dog charities in that there is effectively no single ‘approach’. Throughout the training process, from new puppy to trained dog, they tailor the training and the ‘services’ the dog is going to provide to each individual and their family within the home and in their local area.
While this does mean that the dogs are tightly bonded with the families and trained to provide the best possible support to their individual autistic partners, this is a long and expensive process, requiring ongoing and reliable funding sources.
By encouraging people to go trundling in their own time and add steps to brand-sponsored community walks without having to raise funds themselves, this is where trundl comes in as a Dogs for Autism partner.
Like Dogs for Autism, trundl may be small at the moment, but we too have great ambition and look forward to helping them put lots of feet and paws (but no hooves just yet) to good and healthy use.
Dogs for Autism is one of trundl’s 4 founding charities.
by Tess Caven, trundl Co-Founder