“What can we do to help Darragh?”

When Darragh Kennedy, 6, was formally assessed for autism at the age of two, the resource worker who broke the news to the family was in floods of tears.

Mom Stephanie, however, was more pragmatic. “I wasn’t upset when I heard the diagnosis”, she says. “I simply thought what can we do to help Darragh?” Stephanie quickly secured a home tutor, which helped with Darragh’s verbal communication and other developmental issues.

However, his bolting behaviour continued to put him in danger. Stephanie recalls one incident where he suddenly ran across a busy car park and a passerby had to catch him and pull him to safety.

“Ulla helps him with life and social skills.”

Stephanie decided to apply for an Assistance Dog and in 2013 Darragh was matched with Ulla. Now their family life is completely different. Darragh has stopped bolting and, through Ulla, has learned about road safety.

If Stephanie tries to cross the road without stopping, Darragh now corrects her, saying she must wait for Ulla who is specially trained to stop at crossings.

As he gets older, Darragh is learning more life skills by helping to take care of Ulla by brushing and feeding him. Ulla has also made an enormous positive impact on Darragh’s social skills. “Social situations cause him anxiety but now he loves talking about Ulla”, Stephanie says. “He gets involved in the conversation and is very proud to show off his dog.”

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