Until four months ago, six-year-old Lucas Bugg from Tasmania, Australia needed constant parental attention and reassurance. This meant that his parents Natalie and David could hardly get any time by themselves. Lucas, who has autism, even slept in their bed due to his need for reassuring touch from the parents.
Today, Lucas can sleep in his own bed. He can even focus on tasks given by his parents to keep him busy for long enough for them to accomplish their own chores without any worries. What allowed this huge change in the Bugg household was the arrival of a new family member, Vinny, in April. He is Lucas’ autism assistance dog. In fact, Vinny is the first autism assistance dog placed with a Tasmanian family.
While talking to The Advocate, Natalie Bugg said, “The change has been absolutely massive in every way. More than any of us ever anticipated and in such a short time. He’s had more progress in the last three months than we’ve been able to achieve in years. It opens up a world of opportunities that we and specialists thought were no longer possible.” She called these changes extraordinary since they could not be brought about even by years’ worth of therapies of all kinds.
The changes that the family has seen in Lucas include a drop in frequency and severity of his meltdowns, absolute drop-in time taken to calm down after a meltdown and his attention span increasing manifold from a mere ten minutes to an hour at a stretch. They also said he was more confident in his interactions with other students in the school due to Vinny’s calming presence.
Program Manager of Guide Dog Services Tasmania Kim Ryan hopes that the success of their pilot project helps the sponsors see the benefits of the programme and help extend it to more kids with autism across the state. She also expressed gratitude towards the trainers who first learnt the skills in other states and then helped train Vinny.