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.
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 MIRA Foundation offers a dog aged between 15 and 24 months old. The dog has already completed a 3-4 months training program with a trainer certified by the foundation.
The dogs are Labrador, Bernese or Labernese (Labrador and Bernese hybrid). These dogs are of average or below average weight for their race in order to facilitate the child’s adaptation. In addition, these dogs are selected according to very strict physical and mental health criteria. Thus, they must show no anxiety, demonstrate a great tolerance to manipulation, be able to manage their insecurity, be calm, present no aggressiveness and adapt to various environments. They lived the first year of life in foster homes approved by the MIRA Foundation where they have been desensitized to many stimuli (examples: cars, restaurants, shopping centers, grocery stores, subway, etc..) trained and cleanliness. Lastly, before they are introduced in their new home, these dogs must have successfully passed their obedience training. This training procedure ensures a great homogeneity of the behavioral profile of the dogs.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or send it by mail to Mira Foundation, 1820 Rang Nord-Ouest, Ste-Madeleine, Quebec, J0H 1S0.