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History

Since April 2010, the MIRA Foundation provides opportunities to families of children with a autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to benefit from the services of a well trained dog. The implementation of this program follows several years of extensive research on the impact of the integration of these dogs within families.

The MIRA Foundation has developed an expertise in support services and assistance to people with multiple disabilities through the allocation of service dogs. Since 1981, the Mira Foundation offers to blind people a free and alternative way to compensate for their visual impairment.

In 1990, the Mira Foundation innovated and developed a program awarding guide dogs to children under the age of 15, making this program unique. Three years later, the agency adds a new service to its programs. People with mobility difficulties can now also enjoy the services of an assistance dog. This dog helps them in various tasks of daily life, such as opening doors, picking up objects on the ground and pulling the wheelchair.

Since 2002, it was also oriented towards the establishment of a new service aimed at supporting families of children with ASD. Over the years, the allocation formula and training were improved following the observations and recommendations of the trainers and parents in addition to the findings from the research projects.

Eligibility criteria

Eligibility criteria

The main eligibility criteria for the Schola Mira program are:

• The child must have a strong interest and significant attraction to the dog according to Schola Mira criteria and be 21 years old and under;

• Certify that no dog allergies are apparent in the family environment;

• Certify that there is no other dog at home;

• The dog must not be left alone and must be included in the daily activities of the family, including the workplace, the school environment, the health care environment and public places.

What are autism spectrum disorders?

It is now well known that the prevalence of ASD is in growing numbers, nearly affecting one child in every 110 in North America. Globally, autism is considered as a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by the presence of deficiencies in social functions, in verbal and non-verbal communication, and by the manifestation of stereotyped behaviour and interests (Volkmar, Chawarska, Klin, 2005).

On the behavioural characteristics of the child living with ASD, difficulties are sometimes observed with cooperative play, social interactions and the expression of empathy towards peers (Rutter & Garmezy, 1983). This disorder affects not only the development and adaptation of the child, but his family members as well. Parental stress has been widely research in the past years, and it is of common knowledge that the majority of parents of children living with ASD experience severe levels of stress compared to parents of children with a typical development.

Moreover, the stress associated with the presence of a child with autism would mean imposing constraints on the quality of interactions within the family, and to accentuate the tendency of the children’s withdrawal and communication difficulties (Schieve et al. 2007). Many types of intervention are available to these children and their families. Unfortunately, very little scientific research demonstrates their effectiveness. This gives parents the difficult task of navigating through the many options offered to them with being sure that they made the right decision. This being said, it is of most importance to validate any form of new intervention offered.

The service dog for children living with an autism spectrum disorders and their family

The Schola Mira service dog program is available to families of children with ASD. Our services are also aimed at teenagers and young adults aged 21 and under.

To file an application, the family must reside in the province of Quebec or in the Maritime Provinces.

Want to send a request?

To take part in this program, the child must have an interest in dogs. The child and his family must not have any allergies to dogs. In addition, the dog can’t be left at home alone for a period of more than 4 hours. The dog can not accompany the child to school, since it was not trained to receive the commands of the child. However, since August 2010, the Foundation provides training for parents and their children aged over 12 years. Therefore, some children may be accompanied by their dog, without a parent being present.

Prior to the arrival of the dog in the family, the father or mother of the child follows a training week provided by the Mira Foundation. This training ensures that the parent knows how to interact effectively with the dog in order to bring the dog and the child to interact together. Trainers who have worked with dogs are responsible for this training and with their parents throughout the process.

Want to receive a service dog? Simply print the application form below, complete and e-mail it to schola@mira.ca or send it by mail to Mira Foundation, 1820 Rang Nord-Ouest, Ste-Madeleine, Quebec, J0H 1S0.

Please click here to download the application form for ASD assistance dog (PDF).

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