About Animal Therapy
The use of animals for the cure and recovery of adults, children and seniors have become rampant across the globe for the past few years. It involves the use of dogs, horses, cats, rabbits and other animals to assist in the therapy of patients with different mental and physical conditions.
The principle of animal therapy is based on the fact that most people who have pets are relatively happier and less depressed amidst their daily challenges. Thus, animal-assisted therapy was born. The general benefits that have been reported so far include reduced depression and loneliness, better moods, increased ability to interact socially, promotes relaxation and good sleeping habits, and enhanced attention skills. Before continuing to read on, keep in mind that this type of therapy has been around a long time, unlike therapy options like online therapy; which is why some companies offer it free as mentioned here in this article.
Autism and Animal Therapy
The incorporation of animal therapy in the treatment of autism started when regular interactions between pets and children with autism produced positive outcomes, according to a study.
The first study showed that out of 100 subjects, 94% of parents claimed that the bond of their children and their pets have had tremendous effects in developing and enhancing their children’s social skills – something that autism-challenged kids struggle with every day. Another study also proved that children with autism, who were exposed to play therapy with dogs and small animals like guinea pigs, improved significantly in terms of personal and social interaction.
Gretchen Carlisle, author of the study, states that perhaps it is because of the unconditional and non-judgmental love and affection that animals can provide for the children. “Children and teens often struggle with intense conversations, and a soft, furry dog in an animal-assisted therapy setting can be a great ice breaker or stress-reliever.” Dr. Steven Lazarus, PsyD said.
Benefits of Animal Therapy in the Treatment of Children with Autism
According to Stormi Pulver White, PsyD, “Many teens with autism – boys and girls alike – don’t pay close attention to the social examples and cues of their classmates and peers. As a result, many need help understanding that these behaviors are important.” With that, children with autism have greatly benefited from utilizing animals in conjunction with their treatment or just by having them as pets at home. Below is a list of the specific benefits of animal therapy to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD.
- Improves verbal skills
- Increases self-esteem and self-awareness
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Enhances ability to be happy and enjoys things or activities that can be done at home
- Improved knowledge on simple and some complex topics
- Increased vocabulary
- Improves balance
- Improves wheelchair skills
- Improves fine motor skills
- Increases emotional stability
- Develops affection for self and others
- Decreased erratic mood changes and promotes better mood
The Story of Tom and Goofy
Tom’s parents were nowhere near secure when it comes to their son’s safety and comfort. Tom is 11 and he has autism. His mother has trouble bringing him to the supermarket or to the park because he usually walks unconsciously and ends up getting lost. With that, his mom is left feeling anxious and depressed with the thought of losing Tom anytime.
Then came Goofy, a black Labrador that Tom’s parents borrowed from their neighbor to keep Tom company. A few weeks later, Tom and Goofy were the best of friends. They played in the house initially, and then progressed to playing in the park, where Tom’s mom would monitor and observe them.
Shortly after, Tom became more and more comfortable doing things outside of the house. His parents would bring him shopping with a belt on his waist and connected to Goofy’s collar. This way, if Tom tends to walk far from them, Goofy stops him by sitting down and anchoring him to his place.
Consequently, Goofy became Tom’s friend, assistant, and emotional support. He encouraged Tom to loosen up and enjoy his daily activities. He was now comfortable to go to school, of course, with Goofy by his side. The family was now able to attend community affairs without fear of losing Tom. Goofy saved Tom and he saved his family, as well.