One of the most challenging parts about having a child on the spectrum is their difficulty socializing with their classmates or children their age. It’s like a punch in the gut to know that your child is SO different. An area in recovery that is often overlooked because sometimes parents are so busy looking for that next potential biomedical cure is animal assisted therapy.
Animal assisted therapy can holistically help children with autism. Parents can work with the team of therapists to develop goals such as:
- Relationship skills
- Behaviour modification
- Social and emotional development
- Theory of mind skill
- Communication skills
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
Scientists have been studying animal therapy and children with disabilities since the 1970’s. Research shows that Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) reduces pain levels, blood pressure, heart rate, depression, anxiety, improved attention and loneliness. Research in AAT also shows that children are able to have increasing communication and social skills.
Some of the most common types of animals used in Animal Assisted Therapy are dogs, horses, & dolphins. There is also a video that went viral of a boy with autism who was reunited with his lost cat after 3 months, click here to check it out and grab some tissues.
Dogs are great pets, they can often sense when something is not quite right with a person. They have been known to alert parents when something is wrong with their children, they have been known to keep children safe, and they provide a ton of emotional support.
Imagine if the dog is now trained as a Social Dog for children on the autism spectrum. Social Dogs go with their child everywhere to help with transitions and change. Social Dogs can also be effective ice breakers for social interactions with peers in the community. They can also help a child with autism be more confident because dogs are naturally confident in their demeanor.
Hippotherapy, otherwise known as horse therapy, has been proven to decrease irritability, decrease hyperactivity, increased verbalization, and other improvements. When the child is sitting on the horse that action helps increase balance, helps the child with following the rhythm of the horse, and increases hand/eye coordination. Verbalization can also increase, based on the excitement of riding, and often a non-verbal child will speak to get the horse to move.
If you want to your child benefit socially, developmentally, and emotionally, don’t think you have to run right out and buy a pony! There are great organizations available that specialize in this type of therapy. For more information about hippotherapy in your area, check out the American Hippotherapy Association.
Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) has been around since the 1950’s. Mostly advertised around tourist locations and exotic locales. What is Dolphin Assisted Therapy? DAT is a type of animal-assisted therapy that claims to help people who are physically or mentally disabled by swimming and playing with dolphins in captivity over several sessions. Goals of DAT are improved hand/eye coordination, verbalization, and social skills. A review of the research, however, shows that there is not a lot of data to support that this is a beneficial therapy option.
If you think that Animal Assisted Therapy might be a good option for your child, don’t run out and buy an animal at the pet store. Check out the links above and like everything else that a special needs parent does, research the heck out of which AAT might be best for your child.