herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

All that autistic Darragh (5) wants is a dog to help him in life

Charity

Mary Courtney and her son Darragh (5) pictured at their Kimmage home yesterday.
Mary Courtney and her son Darragh (5) pictured at their Kimmage home yesterday.

If man's best friend is a dog then little Darragh Courtney may become one very happy little boy.

The five-year-old Kimmage boy has a spectrum of autism that places barriers between him and the world.

A specially trained canine companion would help calm his frustrations.

But such specially trained dogs don't come cheap, and Darragh's family are trying to raise the money needed to help him and other children like him around the country.

Darragh was just 18-months-old when he gradually stopped using words.

His parents Mary and Darren weren't sure what was wrong and fearing he might be going deaf, they visited their GP.

"He said he thought Darragh might have Asperger's Syndrome, and that I should not Google it until we got further tests done, but when I got home I had to check it out and my heart broke there and then," Mary explained.

Heartbreak

Further tests ruled out Asperger's, but the diagnosis didn't do anything to cure their heartbreak.

Darragh, their youngest of four boys, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two-and-a-half.

"We were devastated. It is a cold diagnosis and we felt very alone," Mary told the Herald.

Darragh has around 100 words but rarely uses them, opting instead to grab, push or pull his parents to show them what he needs.

"No two children with autism are the same. Each has their own behaviour and quirkiness," Mary explained.

"He is affectionate and has good days, but if you want to go somewhere and he doesn't, there'll be a meltdown," she added.

This is where a trained dog comes into the picture.

A charity called My Canine Companion trains dogs to assist children and young adults living with autism and other conditions.

Niall Ruddy from the charity described how a dog can help.

"Kids like Darragh are high-functioning with a high sensory range which means places like shopping centres can be overwhelming for them," he said.

"A trained dog gives them focus because they encourage positive attention.

Special

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

The cost of training a pup to two-years-old can be in the region of €10,000.

Mary and Darren are holding a table quiz in Terenure College at 8pm on Friday, May 15.

Donations can also be made securely online to idonate.ie under 'Darragh's Puppy Fund'.

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