Jamie Brinco, who attends Mont à l’Abbé School, was diagnosed with severe autism when he was three. However, his parents, Sandra and Jaime Brinco – who are originally from Portugal – decided to contact the Portuguese Assistance Dog Association as they felt Jamie was not getting enough support from the States.
Rui Alves, the association’s lead trainer, first introduced the Portuguese water dog puppy, named Freddie, to the Brinco family in June. He said introducing the dog as a puppy allows him to grow up with Jamie, leading to better results.
The training is given in three stages, with the first focusing on obedience and interaction with the family over a three- to six-month period. The second focuses on obedience and interaction with the child over six to twelve months. And the final stage focuses on training the dog to interact with the child in different public spaces, taking up to 15 months. The cost of the service ranges from approximately £4,000 to £6,000.
Mrs Brinco said: ‘I know my son is capable of learning and developing but he needs better support and we hope this [the assistant dog] will help him.
‘Myself and my husband have received very little support from the local services and it is very frustrating for us as we feel Jamie is capable of so much more.’
Philip Le Claire, executive director of Autism Jersey, said that while there have been improvements, Jersey’s support services for autistic people is ‘hit and miss’.
Mr Le Claire cited obstacles including understaffed Social Services, a lack of training and finances as well as an occasionally flawed diagnosis process which has resulted in some people falling through the cracks.
‘Diagnostics is patchy, meaning some kids get a smooth ride while others will battle on for years waiting for a diagnosis,’ he said.
He added that most of the evidence around the dog-therapy was anecdotal and he had questions over the effectiveness of the service.
‘We [Autism Jersey] would be interested in seeing and reading more empiricle evidence of its benefits,’ Mr Le Claire said.
‘Being honest, I find it a bit scary, as children with autism need consistency and bringing a dog into the mix can often do the opposite.’
In a response to the JEP, a spokeswoman for Children, Young People, Education and Skills said: ‘We are unable to comment on individual cases.
‘However, we take all concerns by parents very seriously. We can confirm that a meeting has been arranged to discuss the issues in detail.’