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Royal Canin Foundation to fund Animal Assisted Education Research Pilot for Neurodivergent Students

The Royal Canin Foundation is funding a first of kind research project with AutismAssistance Dogs Ireland (AADI), which will aim to improve inclusion in school environments.  

The announcement comes during World Autism Month (1st April – 30th April) and will aim to tackle the fact that pupils with autism tend to experience poorer mental health and learning outcomes than their peers.

Through the study, called the Animal Assisted Education Programme, five trained School Support Dogs will be placed across Irish Primary Schools. The research study, supported by University College Cork, will assess the impact the dogs have on learning outcomes, as well as social and emotional wellbeing.

David McCarthy, Head of Fundraising & Communications, at Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland, said: “The programme plays a pivotal role in promoting inclusivity, raising awareness about neurodiversity and autism, and demonstrating the potential of a more empathetic and understanding society. It not only enhances the individual experiences of neurodivergent students but also serves as a beacon of community engagement and societal progress.

"Our collaboration with University College Cork aims to produce compelling research that will advocate for national funding. We're incredibly grateful to the Royal Canin Foundation for joining us in our mission to create accessible educational opportunities for all students."

Nick Foster, General Manager of Royal Canin Ireland, said The Royal Canin Foundation funds projects globally which demonstrate the role that cats and dogs can play in our own health and wellbeing, and I could not think of a better example of a worthwhile project than the Animal Assisted Education Programme. We have been the charities nutritional partner for several years, fueling the dogs as they go about their incredible work in improving the lives of children with autism. I am excited for how this project will play a role in improving the lives of neurodivergent pupils across Ireland.”

As part of a policy of inclusion, many neurodivergent pupils across Ireland attend mainstream schools, however, as an example of one of the barriers faced through this policy of inclusion, pupils with autism are more likely to be placed on shorter school days, reducing the capacity for learning, socialisation and development.

The programme's long-term goal is to establish a framework where every neurodivergent student in Ireland has the support needed to thrive academically and socially. By aligning with educational and societal objectives, Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland is not just enhancing individual experiences but is also contributing to a more empathetic, understanding, and inclusive future.

For more information visit AADI's News & Updates page.

About Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland (AADI):

AADI is committed to enhancing the lives of families living with autism, advocating for their rights, and promoting inclusivity across Ireland with the help of highly trained assistance dogs. Our primary focus is to train and place highly skilled autism assistance dogs. Assistance dogs are trained to the highest international standards to provide safety to children in public places. Assistance dogs enable children to go out and about safely and reduce anxiety not just for the child but for the whole family. They can be a lifeline for children and their families when a child is suffering from the sometimes debilitating symptoms of autism.

About the Royal Canin Foundation:

We believe cats and dogs make our world better, that is why we have a purpose: A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS. The Royal Canin Foundation is an independent and non-profit organisation working to support the role of pets in human health and welfare. It was established in 2020 by Royal Canin, a global expert, in health through nutrition for cats and dogs, and operates globally to support pets that work in the benefit of human health and welfare. The Royal Canin Foundation has previously funded projects with the Medical Detection Dogs in the detection of COVID-19, and the Canine Befriender Lodge at South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Trust.

Learn more about the foundation on

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