Since time immemorial, different animals have been used for a wide variety of purposes. However, it’s only recently that the health professionals are waking up to a realization about animals and the therapeutic effects they can bring about on human psyche. From petting a puppy, going for a swim with a dolphin, engaging in play activities with a dog to riding a horse, all these different activities involving animals can aid us in achieving psychological well-being.
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) revolves on the principle of improving the cognitive, emotional and overall well-being by means of animals possessing certain characteristics suitable for the problem in question. The animals generally used for this purpose are trained dogs, cats, horses, dolphins etc.
ASD and Animal Assisted Therapy:
Due to lack of social skills, a child with Autism has difficulty in connecting or forming a bond with his peers. In such cases, animals make for great companions and this companionship offers these children an opportunity to connect with another being which is imperative for their development.
Individuals with ASD often suffer from difficulty in focusing, responding to sensory stimuli, and communicating with others, all of which have been shown to improve after the use of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT).
A study was conducted; introducing a dog to children with ASD can result in a reduction of stress, anxiety, and irritation and can also promote a more relaxed environment for those children (Berry et al, 2013). A study, investigated the social and sensory benefits that therapeutic horseback riding could have on children with ASD. The study showed positive effects on participants' abilities to communicate and a reduction in the severity of their ASD (Ward et al, 2013).
Benefits of animal Therapy:
- Increases attention span.
- Have more self-confidence
- Transferable skills of empathy and relating to others
- Have better sense of well-being
- Helps to overcome sensory defensiveness.
- Enhances problem-solving skills.
- Helps the child learn about unconditional love.
- Helps the child to relax and maintain a better state of mind.
- Helps building and maintaining social skills.
However, it is very important to keep in mind that the child does not suffer from any allergies that could be caused or aggravated due to contact with animals.
Berry A, Borgi M, Francia N, Alleva E, Cirulli F. Use of assistance and therapy dogs for children with autism spectrum disorders: a critical review of the current evidence. J Altern Complement Med. 2013;19(2):73-80
Ward SC, Whalon K, Rusnak K, Wendell K, Paschall N. The association between therapeutic horseback riding and the social communication and sensory reactions of children with autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013;43(9):2190-2198.