The ArgusPet dog helps autistic children (From The Argus)

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Pet dog helps autistic children

The Argus: Katie, Harvey and Leo with Hetty the chocolate labrador Katie, Harvey and Leo with Hetty the chocolate labrador

A LABRADOR puppy is helping a young boy and his sibling cope with their severe autism.

Harvey, nine, and his younger brother Leo, six, were given chocolate Labrador Hetty by their mother Catherine Simmonds.

And the dog has had a surprising affect on her sons’ behaviour.

The mother-of-four also has a 19-year-old daughter Megan, who was placed in a specialist unit when she was seven, because of her violent and severe autism.

For this reason she is desperate to keep her sons at home.

She fears her six-year-old daughter Katie, Leo’s twin, may also be autistic.

She said: “Harvey has severe problems socialising with people.

“He has even talked about killing himself because he has no friends.

“We got her to give us something positive and they both bonded immediately.”

The charity Dogs for the Disabled said the pets can help children with autism by remaining calm in busy environments and helping a child to feel relaxed and safe, provide a constant focus for a child in unfamiliar environments and a dog thrives on routine and follows simple rules which can provide a structure for children to follow.

After seeing the effect that Hetty had on Harvey, Mrs Simmonds decided to look into training the dog to specifically help with her sons’ autism.

Hetty completed her initial six weeks of training at Dog Service Europe in Ireland, which specialises in training autism service dogs.

She needs to complete her final stage of training in January but Mrs Simmonds needs to raise £4,000 which the course costs.

A spokesperson for Service Dogs Europe said that not many dogs get accepted onto the training programme, but Hetty has the right characteristics and attitude for the job.

Once Hetty has completed her training she will be able to help with situations where Harvey is affected by his autism, including panic attacks.

For more information, visit the Hetty Harveys Helper Facebook page.

To make a donation towards Hetty’s training, visit www.mycharity.ie/event/hettyharveyshelper.

l Dogs for the Disabled was founded in 1988 by Frances Hay as a result of her personal experience with a pet dog helping her overcome her disability.

The charity trains assistance dogs to help people with disabilities live a more independent life.

In 2007, the charity extended its services to train assistance dogs to support families with a child with autism.

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