Having an Assistance Dog has transformed family life for the Campbells, but they came frighteningly close to missing their one chance for an Assistance Dog, and the chance of a better future for Ewan.
Ewan was four when he was diagnosed with autism. At this point Siobhan and Gordon didn’t know much about Assistance Dogs, or the many ways they can help children with autism to develop and communicate.
But when a friend of Siobhan’s told her about our programme she began to look closer. However, at that time our waiting list was closed for new applications because we couldn’t keep up with demand. So Siobhan reluctantly began waiting for the window of opportunity to open.
About a year later we were able to open our list for new applicants again. It was a moment Siobhan remembers well.
“I’m part of a Facebook group called Autism Mammies. There’s nearly 1,500 mothers on it with kids with autism, all just in Ireland. One day a message went up on the page that Irish Guide Dogs were accepting Assistance Dog applications again. It was like an alert, you know: ‘go, go, go!’ I got on and put Ewan’s name down immediately!”
At this point, Ewan was nearly six, the ideal time to start work with an Assistance Dog.
“Ewan wouldn’t play with other children, not even his cousins. He couldn’t. He didn’t know how to. He found loud or sudden noises really difficult. We couldn’t bring him into a public toilet in case someone knocked off a hand dryer. And he couldn’t sleep. He was always a dreadful sleeper,” Siobhan said.
“The worst thing was the bolting. He’d just run off. We couldn’t go to a shopping centre or anything like that. The noises would just overwhelm him and he’d take off.
” I remember one time I was holding Eabha when Ewan ran off and I literally threw Eabha at this stranger, saying ‘Quick hold her!’ and ran after Ewan! And the way people would just look at you if he had a meltdown. People tutting at me and sighing and stuff – ‘Can she not control that child?’ We left places in tears more times than I can remember. It was just a rollercoaster really.”
But Irish Guide Dogs had only just begun the process of bringing forward the next wave of Assistance Dogs, of which Yabba would be just one. The clock was ticking – and time was not on their side. It was a long, painful wait. Ewan became a little harder to handle, and time kept on slipping away.
Finally, the call that Siobhan had been waiting for came.
“We were waiting around two-and-a-half years. Ewan turned eight last year and I was like, ‘Okay, we’re kind of getting close to the cut-off. If we’re not called soon we won’t
“Then last May we got the call to say they’d matched us with a dog. We couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Yes! They’ve found us a dog!’ And that’s when we all went down to meet Yaba.”
According to Siobhan, after just a year Yabba is already having an amazing calming effect on Ewan – bringing him out of his shell and enabling the Murphy family to enjoy life in a whole new way, doing things they would never have considered doing before.
Families like the Murphys from Dunboyne know what a difference an autism Assistance Dog can make to their lives. Their Assistance Dog, Yaba, came into their home just over a year ago, and has
Thanks to Yabba, the future is looking brighter than ever for Ewan.
“Nowadays we can go anywhere. Yabba is like another pair of hands, so Ewan can’t run off. At first he wore the harness jacket, so his jacket was linked to Yabba’s harness by a lead. If he bolted, Yabba would stay put and anchor him. But he’s so much better now. Thanks to Yabba he doesn’t bolt anymore. In fact he doesn’t even wear the harness jacket anymore, he just holds onto the lead in his hand. What I’d really love to see in the future is if Ewan could walk Yabba by himself.
“Sometimes, if Ewan is anxious at night time and can’t sleep, Yabba jumps up on the couch with us, and Ewan just strokes him for 15 minutes or so. Then he’s happy to go back up to bed again. He’s really helped with socialising Ewan too. Children want to come up to him and his dog now. Ewan loves that. It’s really brought him out of his shell. So much so that he’s joining in activities he’d never have joined in before.
“Yabba has made such a difference, the benefits are immense. He’s helped us to go out to more places, helped us enjoy more things as a family. Simple things like going to the shopping centre, going to the beach, walking down to the fun fair. Little family things that we wouldn’t or couldn’t have done before.
“When we were on our training weekend with other families who have kids with autism, we all agreed how wonderful it would be if all autism services could be as good as the Irish Guide Dogs’ Assistance Dog programme. The follow up, the training, the support, everything is just incredible,” Siobhan said.View all stories