Studies show that dog-assisted therapies help children living with disabilities improve their communication skills and cope with fear and anxiety. Animal therapy is the use of animals to improve health and wellbeing, especially in children living with disabilities. There are three types of therapy animals: therapeutic visitation animals, facility therapy animals, and assisted therapy animals. A variety of animals are used in animal-assisted therapy for children, but dogs are the most common because they are supportive and friendly. The most common dogs used in therapy are Yorkies, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, collies, German shepherds and golden retrievers. Other animals used in therapy include small pigs, dolphins, horses, alpacas, llamas, fish, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs and cats.
Which Children Need Animal-Assisted Therapy
Animal assisted therapy, or AAT, harnesses the good characters of animals and utilizes them to improve the lives of people in physical or mental pain. AAT for children has become quite popular recently because it is easier for children with disabilities to interact with animals than other people. AAT is beneficial for children with various mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. It is used alongside other types of treatments because of its many benefits. It has shown to be useful for children with conditions such as traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, muscular dystrophy, intellectual or developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy (CP), behavioral disorders, and an autism spectrum disorder.
Physical Benefits Of Animal Therapy
There is an array of benefits that children enjoy when they use AAT. These are benefits that sometimes cannot be acquired when children are being taught by their therapists or parents. For example, petting or grooming dogs can be used in therapy for CP, alongside physical and occupational therapies, because it helps children with CP to build up dexterity and strength in their limbs. Meanwhile, the calm nature of a dog, its simple way of communication, and its love for rules and routine can help children on the autism spectrum to communicate and relax. A dog can also help them learn how to read, especially if the child feels self-conscious when they are learning to read aloud.
Dolphin therapy can help children with impairments and disabilities become stimulated and learn communication skills. Farm animals help children on the autism spectrum understand boundaries, and learn communication and social skills. For example, horses are used for two types of therapy: therapeutic horseback riding and hippotherapy. These horse therapies are great for children with muscular-related disabilities.
Decorative fish in fish tanks at dentists’ or doctors’ offices, on the other hand, help children become calm, reduce blood pressure, reduce muscle tension, lower anxiety, and reduce heart rate. Other benefits of animal therapy are to improve cardiovascular health, improve joint movement, reduce or alleviate pain, increase amounts of exercise, improve independent or assisted movement, and hone fine motor skills.
Emotional And Mental Benefits
Besides physical benefits, animal therapy also provides emotional benefits to children. One of the benefits is that attention is not solely on the child, so they feel less self-conscious. AAT may also reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, increase feelings of hope, happiness, and security, reduce anxiety and feeling of loneliness and isolation, enhance trust and bonding, promote more emotional stability, reduce stress, increase nurturing, compassion and empathy, and enhance self-confidence and empathy.
AAT also allows children with disabilities to experience many social and mental benefits. Apart from acting as their friend, therapy animals also help children to widen their circle of human friends. For example, when a dog is assisting with animal therapy, the child can teach it commands, which enables them to build self-confidence and improve their language. They also learn communication skills and interactive play.
Every child deserves to be given an opportunity to learn and enjoy life, regardless of their physical, or mental disabilities. Animal therapy can make a huge difference to children living with a disability, and dogs play an important role in this.