BEFORE she was paired with her canine partner, Amy Bishop could barely leave the house.

The 31-year-old from Southampton has autism, ME, fibromyalgia and functional neurological disorder.

She was diagnosed with developmental co-ordination disorder dyspraxia at the age of four, and autism at 16.

"My mum knew from when I was little that I had autism, as I was very late in reaching important milestones," she says.

"School was a very upsetting time, as I was badly bullied, and struggled to keep up because of my learning difficulties."

Amy's life then got even more difficult some eight years ago.

"My life changed forever," she says.

"One minute, I was standing in the kitchen, and the next, I was on the floor, with no feeling below my waist at all."

Any was admitted to the neurological ward at Southampton General Hospital where, after going through a series of investigations, she was diagnosed with functional neurological disorder, a name given to medically unexplained symptoms, which seem to be caused by problems in the nervous system.

"Going into hospital caused problems for me as, due to my autism, I couldn't bear to be away from my mum, and couldn't cope with the unfamiliar situation, loud noises and not having my usual routine.

"The hospital was very kind, and put me in a side ward, but it was the most frightened I've ever felt, and I cried every night."

Due to her various conditions, Amy is now permanently in a wheelchair.

"Coming to terms with being in a wheelchair has been a very difficult and emotional journey for me and my family," says Amy, who adds that she felt very isolated and anxious.

"The house was my safe place, but it was also a prison. Because of my physical disabilities, I could never be left on my own, because I wasn't safe. It made me feel very guilty, as I felt like I was causing stress and pressure on the people I love.

"When I went out, I struggled as I felt like people were staring at me."

But Amy's life took a positive turn when she came across the story of Hampshire wonderdog Endal, the canine partner who changed the life of Gulf War veteran Allen Parton.

"I looked up Canine Partners on the internet and remember feeling so excited that I had to show my mum.

"I knew I needed help, as I felt I was in such a low place, and I was scared as because I was trying to come to terms with my physical disabilities. I wanted this more than anything else in the world.

"When I found out I was matched with Vida, I literally screamed down the phone with excitement.

"When I first met her, I was shaking with excitement and crying with happiness. One of the first things Vida did when we met was jump onto my lap – I think for both of us, it was love at first sight?

"When it was time to say goodbye on the matching day, I was really sad as I didn't want to leave her."

Amy was trained with Vida in her own home.

"I was so happy and overjoyed to have Vida home with me," she says.

"I also felt nervous that I was going to struggle to remember all the commands. I felt so happy but occasionally would get upset and cross with myself for not being able to remember things.

"I was fatigued but determined. My advanced trainer, Cat, was fantastic and so understanding. She worked at my pace and understood my autism. It was a very positive experience."

Amy says that having Vida has given her her life back.

"My life has completely changed in the most amazing and wonderful way," she says.

"Vida does many tasks to help me every day, which means my mum can leave me, because she knows Vida cares for me and keeps me safe.

"Vida gives me so much independence, as I know she will support me, and it means I don't always have to call on others to do things for me. She has opened up my world so much. She has helped me come to therms with being in a wheelchair, instead of feeling self-conscious. I am more confident, because my focus is on her.

"Before Vida, I couldn't even make eye contact or make conversation with people. Now, I'm able to be more spontaneous and change my routine, make eye contact and hold conversations, which is a massive deal for someone with autism."

Amy adds that having Vida also let her say goodbye to her much-loved grandmother.

"Because of Vida, I was able to see my beloved nan at the nursing home on a regular basis. She got very ill, which was very distressing, and at times I burst into tears. Vida would sit quietly by her bed. I got to see my nan the day before she passed away, and I couldn't have done this without the unconditional love and support of Vida.

"Vida has given me so much confidence, that I recently applied for a voluntary job and want to learn to drive too.

"She is my hero and my best friend," adds Amy.

"She means the world to me, and has transformed my life, both physically and emotionally, in the most amazing way."

For more information about Canine Partners, visit