Life might be challenging for children with developmental disabilities
such as: “Tourette Syndrome” (TS), “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” (OCD), or “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD) that leads to other issues like social withdrawal and anxiety. There are various therapies and behavioral management programs available to offer support to children living with these neurological and developmental disorders. In addition to that, medical science is going to animals, but in a good way. Pet therapy is gaining fans in healthcare and beyond.
Let’s find out together what’s behind this growing trend!
What Is Pet Therapy?
Known also for Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Pet therapy is a type of treatment using trained animals to help people cope with a variety of issues, including illness and mental health disorders. Pet therapy sessions are guided by a trained person: “The animal’s handler”.
The choice of animal to use in pet therapy has a lot to do with the child and what sort of help he/she needs:
-Domestic cats help to maintain blood pressure, reduce aggression and feel pain.
-Dogs are helpful during the recovery period. They are also helpful in cases of autism: “Dogs work as social catalysts by encouraging kids with autism to bond with each other, “ said Francesca Cirulli, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Health, Italy.
-Horses are animals that help to heal a person from mental disorders, they have an innate ability to help us heal our emotional wounds.
-Goats and parrots develop the motor, sensory and social capabilities of the physically disabled, through therapy sessions.
Maria Glenn specializes in equine therapy says:” Pet therapy can achieve results faster than some other types of therapy. That is because it is easier for a child to build a rapport with an animal than with an (adult) therapist. That rapport comes from having a shared experience, as the kid plays with the animal”.
How is pet therapy administered?
Many factors come into choosing the animal and handler team for a pet therapy patient. The type of animal, its size, age, behavior, and breed, are all important considerations in figuring out the right team for each child patient. A discussion of suitable animal handling is needed to ensure the safety of both the kid receiving treatment and the pet. For example, if your child has fear of dogs you might avoid a canine in course therapy.
Just as there are many types of animals, so too, there are many different types of pet therapy. In general, pet therapy’s basis is in the bond between kids and animals. A child may learn how to use a clicker to teach a dog to jump through a hula hoop. As the child watches the therapy dog progress, he sees that he has a positive effect on the animal’s behavior. Therefore, his sense of self-esteem increases.
The chosen animal for pet therapy generally has to fulfill certain requirements.
First, the animal will need a physical examination by a veterinarian to confirm that it is immunized and free of diseases. Then the animal will need obedience training so it can be properly controlled by the handler who must take an instructional course to learn how to interact with kids. At this point, the evaluation of the animal is based on its temperament and how it behaves with its handler. Finally, the animal and handler are ready.
Once a team of an animal and a handler is approved, animals are assigned for therapy based on a specific child’s needs. In each session, the animal handler is there to work with the animal and child to achieve therapy goals, determined in advance. The sessions are fun and enjoyable.
What are the benefits of Pet Therapy to kids?
-Helps children overcome speech and emotional disorders.
-Improves literacy skills.
-Increases Motor skills and joint movement.
-Increases willingness to join in activities.
-Improves interactions with others.
-Reduces anxiety because of its calming effects.
-Helps children learn empathy and nurturing skills.
-Improves communication skills.
-Demonstrates how to offer and receive unconditional love.
-Teaches children to take responsibility for themselves and others.
Does pet therapy have risks?
The biggest concern particularly is safety and sanitation. Most hospitals and other facilities that use pet therapy have stringent rules to ensure that the animals are clean, vaccinated, well-trained and screened for appropriate behavior. People who are allergic to animal dander may have reactions during pet therapy. Animals in therapy programs pass through a screening for behavior and health. An animal’s owner and handler must also undergo training and evaluation to help ensure a positive experience.
While rare, human injury can occur when unsuitable animals are used. Animals may also suffer injury or abuse when handled inappropriately.
Pet therapy, properly planned and administered, can bring positive outcomes not just for the child, but for the entire family. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic family members who look on during a session of pet therapy tend to feel better, too!
What about you? Are you ready to try a pet therapy session with your child after reading this article?
Author: Dr Rania Boublal.