It is most important that as a parent you work closely with the animal assisted therapist to find methods that work well for your children. Since different children react differently to the therapy, parents can either be asked to do some simple exercises and activities at home or limit the therapy to the therapy sessions with the animal assisted therapist.
If parents are recommended to keep a domestic dog or cat, then they should make sure to do so only if practical and suitable. It is fairly expensive to care for a pet, and it should only be done if adequate funds and resources to care for the animal are available. Moreover, it should be kept in mind that before starting animal-assisted therapy, parents should ensure that their children do not suffer from any allergies toward animals.
Animal-assisted therapy often acts as a complementary mode of treatment with traditional work done by a licensed psychotherapist, social worker, or another mental health–care provider. Dogs are the primary animals used, although various animal-assisted programs offer different animals for people with different physical and emotional needs.
Service dogs may come from animal shelters or be raised in selective breeding programs, but they must undergo formal training to be certified. In some cases, it may be necessary to obtain a written prescription or a letter from a medical doctor, licensed psychotherapist, or social worker to certify or register one’s own therapy or emotional-support animal.
Our database also has information on animal assisted therapy centres and therapists, which have been sorted by country, state, and city. Normally, animal assisted therapists can be recommended by one’s occupational therapist or pediatrician in order to help enhance the benefits of their treatment.
Studies done suggest that animal assisted therapy has a number of benefits such as an increased attention span, an increase in self-confidence, transferable skills of empathy, and a better sense of well being.
More specifically in children who show more sensory related symptoms of autism, it also helps to overcome sensory defensiveness, and enhances problem solving skills while aiding the child find ways to relax and maintain a better state of mind. Spending time with animals or having a pet helps children on the autism spectrum learn about unconditional love, responsibility, and build and maintain social skills.
For example, the introduction of a dog to a child with ASD can result in a reduction of stress, anxiety, and irritation and can also promote a more relaxed environment for that child. Another study, analyzed the sensory and social benefits of therapeutic horseback riding on children with ASD. The results of this study showed that horseback riding had a positive effect on the children’s communication skills, along with a reduction in the severity of their ASD.
Various trials on the effects of AAT in ASD have been conducted. A systematic review by O’Haire on fourteen trials revealed that dogs and horses are the most commonly used therapy animals. This review found that there was no significant difference between the use of horses or dogs and all the studies showed improvements in one or more ASD related categories and symptoms.
Animal-assisted therapy is a therapeutic method that includes animals such as dogs, cats, pigs, horses and birds, into a plan of treatment. It is usually coupled with occupational therapy and aims to enhance or complement its gains.
You may have noticed your child with autism having difficulty in connecting to or forming a bond with his/her peers, due to a lack of social skills. Animals make great companions in such cases, giving children an opportunity to connect with another being. This companionship plays a key role in the child’s overall development.
Children with ASD often face difficulty in focusing or responding to sensory stimuli, and communicating with others, all of which have been shown to improve after undergoing AAT.
Another developing area in the field of AAT is the ongoing research on the use of dolphins to benefit children with autism. This is called Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT). DAT can be used to improve motor skills and speech. It is now being used for children with speech deficits, learning disabilities, autism, Down’s syndrome and other developmental issues.
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