Zahid lives with cerebral palsy which has affected his balance and mobility. He also has a hearing impairment. He is anxious about going out into the community alone particularly in relation to being in public areas where there are crowds and where he may need to manage uneven surfaces such as kerbs and steps when crossing the street. He’s been working with several capacity building supports, such as support workers, to help him be more independent.
Zahid’s therapist thinks his ability to go out without support isn’t likely to change much over time. He doesn’t want to rely on support workers to be able to go out. He already needs them to come in and out of his home. So, Zahid’s occupational therapist and physiotherapist recommend that he think about an assistance animal to actively help him with some specific tasks. Such as helping him to find level crossing areas and being able to be a buffer between him and other people. His therapists think an assistance animal will help him to become more independent and go out in the community without fear. Zahid asks us for funding for an assistance animal, and its ongoing upkeep costs.
Would we fund this?
Yes, we could fund an assistance animal to help Zahid:
- be more independent
- need less other funded supports
- become more involved with social and work activities.
Why would we fund it?
To decide if a support is reasonable and necessary for Zahid, we think about the information he has given us against the NDIS funding criteria.
For us to fund an assistance animal it must meet the all of the NDIS funding criteria. It must:
- help Zahid to pursue his goals
- help Zahid to improve his social and work activities
- not generally be something that could be given by his family or friends
- will be, or is likely to be effective and beneficial in helping him
- be good value for money, which means that the costs of the assistance animal, its training and ongoing upkeep are reasonable when comparing the benefits it will give Zahid versus the cost of alternative supports
- be something we are responsible for providing.
Assistance animals compared to other supports
We have found that many assistance animals aren’t an effective and beneficial support for many types of disabilities, taking into account current good practice. For example, an assistance animal recommended for emotional support is unlikely to be effective or beneficial in helping to reduce behaviours of concern.
We need to compare the support the assistance animal can give with other best practice supports. For example, a behaviour support plan or capacity building supports that tackle the issues that may be causing the behaviours.
Often there will be evidence that shows other more effective supports will give the same, or more benefits at a much lower cost.
Even if an assistance animal could be effective and beneficial in helping you to pursue your goals and improve your social and work activities, we need to make sure it’s value for money. For example, if you have a vision impairment, we need to compare the cost of a dog guide, including its training and upkeep, with the cost of other supports available. This could be things like assistive technology or therapy supports.
The costs of training and qualifying an assistance animal often means they don’t meet the NDIS funding criteria. We won’t fund an assistance animal if other supports are available that would cost a lot less to achieve a similar result.
This means that while we can fund an assistance animal, it must meet all of our funding criteria. Usually, an assistance animal isn’t found to be a reasonable and necessary support because it doesn’t meet your specific individual disability support needs.
Although an assistance animal might appear to meet all of our funding criteria, often it’s not likely to be effective and beneficial for you, taking into account current good practice. This means we need to look at other supports that will get the same or a better outcome for you. So, this means an assistance animal might not be the most suitable support at this time.
When we create your plan we must think about your supports as a total package of supports. To help us to do this we use the principles we use to create your plan.
What else do we think about?
If we decide it’s reasonable and necessary, we may fund disability related supports to help you take care of your assistance animal. But we won’t fund:
- training for you or others to learn how to train your assistance animal, the animal can only be trained by an accredited provider
- support workers to care for, feed and exercise your assistance animal for you.
Eric is 5 years old and lives with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). He has recently been showing behaviours of concern. To help manage these behaviours, Eric’s therapist recommends an assistance dog. The therapist thinks the dog is likely to be a calming influence and will help Eric settle into school. The therapist also thinks taking care of the dog will teach Eric about responsibility.
Eric’s parents ask us to fund an assistance dog. They include in their application:
- the therapist’s recommendation for the dog
- a quote from a local dog trainer, who says an assistance dog should be available for Eric within the next 3 months
- an estimate of the yearly ongoing upkeep costs for the dog.
To work out if funding for an assistance animal is reasonable and necessary, we look at the information Eric’s parents give us, and whether it meets the NDIS funding criteria. We also think about whether:
- the dog meets the definition of an assistance animal and is trained to actively do tasks that will help Eric manage his disability
- Eric needs an assistance animal because of his disability, or his disability support needs
- the animal will be a risk to Eric or others
- other supports will help Eric manage his disability and become more independent, without needing ongoing support
- an assistance animal is the most appropriate support for Eric, or if there are other supports that would achieve the same or a better result
- the animal will be, or is likely to be, effective and beneficial for Eric, taking into account current good practice
- the cost of the assistance animal and its benefits to Eric are value for money compared to other supports available, including other best practice behaviour supports.
In Eric’s case the planner decides:
- Eric’s parents haven’t looked into all the available best practice support options that could help him manage his emotions with minimal support
- there isn’t enough information to show that an assistance animal is the most appropriate support for Eric
- it isn’t clear what tasks the assistance animal would be specifically trained to actively do for Eric that he can’t do himself because of his disability, and what results the dog will achieve for him
- it isn’t clear how the dog will help Eric settle into school, why he needs this support, or why it isn’t going to be given by his parents and the school
- Eric could be taught about responsibility in another way, as would any other child of his age. For example, being given simple chores around the house like laying the table for meals
- that, if the animal is used for Eric to learn about responsibility, the animal is like a normal pet rather than a disability support
- it isn’t clear how an assistance animal will be able to manage Eric’s behaviours of concern effectively
- while Eric may need therapy to help manage his behaviours of concern, there isn’t enough evidence to show that an assistance dog will be effective in doing this
- the cost of training the assistance animal plus the cost of other behavioural supports Eric needs while the animal is being trained, isn’t value for money compared to the cost of other best practice supports. For example, the benefits he could get from using a positive behaviour support plan
- the ongoing upkeep costs of the animal aren’t value for money when compared to best practice behaviour support interventions, which are typically for a shorter time.
The planner decides the assistance animal doesn’t meet our funding criteria. The support isn’t approved.
The planner recommends that a positive behaviour support plan be looked at for Eric. This may help Eric and his carers to understand his triggers and identify early warning signs. This could help to reduce his behaviours of concern. It’s also likely to give consistent support in managing his behaviours, whether at school, at home or elsewhere.
Case example 2
Nadia has severe vision impairment and wants to start looking for part time employment. She has found it very difficult to get around independently. Nadia has previously worked with an occupational therapist and an orientation and mobility instructor to build her capacity to use public transport and get around the community herself. But this hasn’t been successful. She now has a recommendation from her occupational therapist to use a dog guide to help her travel on public transport and get around a workplace by herself. The report says the dog guide would help Nadia:
- to avoid obstacles like desks and bins
- by signalling changes in elevation to navigate steps and stairs
- by locating objects on command such as entrances, exits and door handles.
Nadia has been in touch with an assistance animal provider. The provider said a dog guide that can do the recommended tasks should be available in 2 months.
Nadia asks us to fund a dog guide. She includes:
- the recommendation from her occupational therapist
- a service agreement, which includes the tasks the dog will be trained in and what has been agreed between Nadia and the provider
- a quote for buying and training her dog guide by the provider
- the ongoing maintenance costs for the dog.
See Our Guideline – Assistance animals for what information we need to decide if we can fund an assistance animal.
To work out if an assistance animal meets the NDIS funding criteria, we look at the information Nadia has given us. We think about whether:
- the dog is an assistance animal related to Nadia’s disability and the support is related to her disability support needs
- there will be any risks to Nadia or others from the assistance animal
- the assistance animal will be specifically trained to actively help Nadia do at least 3 tasks she can’t do because of her disability so it will be, or is likely to be, effective and beneficial for her, taking into account current good practice
- the assistance animal represents value for money when the costs of it are compared to the benefits and other supports available.
For Nadia the planner decides:
- The tasks the assistance animal will be specifically trained to actively do for Nadia are tasks she can’t do for herself and are directly related to Nadia’s disability support needs.
- Based on the occupational therapist’s report the assistance animal is likely to make it much less risky for Nadia when moving around a workplace.
- A trained assistance animal is unlikely to be a risk to Nadia and others.
- An assistance animal to help people with severe visual impairments has been shown to be an effective and beneficial support. With Nadia’s disability support needs, a dog guide is likely to be effective in helping Nadia move around a workplace independently.
- The assistance animal is value for money compared to the likely costs and benefits of other support options available. It’s likely that Nadia will need less other supports to get to and around the workplace, and the assistance animal will meet Nadia’s disability support needs.
The planner decides a dog guide for Nadia meets the NDIS funding criteria. The support is approved.
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