THERAPY dogs have become a pivotal part of the team at a purpose-built school for children with autism in Basingstoke.

The Austen Academy is a school for children with autism and is the first of its kind in Hampshire.

It is part of the Catch22 Multi-Academies Trust and the site caters specifically to students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is a range of developmental disabilities that can cause social and behavioural difficulties.

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Since opening in April 2021, the academy has made the most of the kind-hearted nature of dogs and the cute-looking canines have been helping out with everyday activities.

The Austen Academy has two dogs that visit the school regularly, Milo and Rusa.

Milo is a 10-year-old Cockapoo and is a very gentle soul. He loves being stroked and has a very calming way with the students. He also has non shedding hair.

Rusa is a two-year-old working cocker spaniel and is lively but very gentle. She comes in two or three times a week as she is still young and learning to be in school.

Liz Cooper, headteacher at the The Austen Academy, said: “Milo and Rusa have made a significant positive impact on the whole community here at the Austen Academy. For us, having therapy dogs on site has given students a safe space in which they can reflect and destress, we couldn’t be more grateful for the effect they have.”

Both dogs have had character assessments from a dog professional.

A spokesperson from the school, added: “The dogs spend most of the time in Ms Cooper’s office where they have beds and have a feeling of security. They also go out in the school building and grounds visiting students and have students visiting them.

"A typical day might include meeting the children as they arrive in school, visiting classes, spending time with individual children to help them manage their emotional state and spending time outside at breaktimes with the children.

"They also have plenty of time available for sleeping! It is important to understand the dogs own emotional state and if the dogs are tired, they have time in their beds without disturbance. The dogs are normally keen to come to school but on the few days they do not seem so keen, they stay at home to rest."

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The school believes the dogs make a significant difference, adding an element that means that some children attend school who would otherwise still be school refuser's.

Milo has a special relationship with one student who was a school refuser and is now in school full time. Milo enjoys spending time with this student as much as the student enjoys spending time with him.

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