Sunday 21 July 2019

Autism support dog would be life-changing

Olivia Ryan

A Dundalk dad has launched a €10,000 fundraising campaign to help his teenage son secure an autism assistance dog.

Brian Doherty, Seafield Lawns, has reached out to the national charity 'My Canine Companion' to look at how a support dog might improve his son Fergal's everyday life.

He explained how the family have faced a long and difficult journey in getting a diagnosis for Fergal (14).

Having been 'sent back and forward' between various healthcare bodies, they eventually decided to make a private consultant's appointment in 2018.

'There had various issues with Fergal since he was in pre-school,' said Brian, 'signs that something was wrong.'

But, he added they had continued with various recommended appointments, including at the centre in Mounthamilton, without ever having been given a diagnosis for Fergal.

'We attended with Dr. Fitzgerald in Dublin late last year. We began to explain the background, and some of the challenges Fergal faced.'

'It didn't take long before he was able to tell us that it was autism, and ADHD.'

Brian added that the diagnosis had been a relief for the family, who were struggling with some of Fergal's behaviour, particularly as he grew older and physically stronger.

'I thought it was very unfair that Fergal had suffered for all of these years, without ever being told what was wrong.'

But the devoted Dad said he 'wanted to do as much as I can' and began to look at ways to help Fergal.

'I spoke with another family locally, whose son has a support dog, and it seems to make a real difference.'

'A dog would provide safety and companionship, help to reduce anxiety he suffers from, and hopefully promote independence,' said Brian.

He made contact with the Cork based charity 'My Canine Companion' which trains dogs to assist children and young adults living with autism.

They provide fully trained service dogs, but it costs the charity just over €10,000 to train from birth right through to graduation.

Support or 'assistance' dogs have been shown to make dramatic differences' in the quality of life for children with autism and their families.

Not only do the dogs assist them physically, but these special dogs also become the child's best and in some cases, only, friend.

Children, and young adults with autism can struggle significantly with social settings, and often find it very difficult to relate to other children and adults.

'A dog would be a real companion for Fergal, something that would get him out of the house, but also a focus for him,' added Brian.

He set up a 'GoFund Me' page for the €10,000 fundraising campaign, but has also planned a series of events over the coming months to help reach the target.

A member of Cuchulainn Cycling Club, he is planning to cycle 5000 kilometres by the end of the year. A bag pack is also being organised during the summer.

The family are also hoping local people will get behind them by organising fundraising events, or donating directly to the GoFund Me 'Please help me help Fergal'

The Argus