Animal-Therapy for Autism
I have been engaged in many different forms of healing therapies throughout my journey with Autism. This includes working with Janice Terra, Lady Horse Whisperer and Certified Equine Therapist. Of which I will be sharing about that experience in another blog with greater detail.
Being around pets or having structured contact with animals can be a beneficial treatment for children and adults with autism. There are many reports from both parents and clinicians that interacting with animals, formally called animal-assisted therapy, can offer both physical and emotional benefits to children with autism.
I grew up with animals, and was always around ranch animals, wild animals, and domestic animals. Today I have a beautiful cat named Angel. She is a mirror of me in many ways, a mirror of me with blue eyes and blonde hair, my sweet Angel has been with me through the more recently challenging aspects of my healing journey. She reflects sweetness, unique sense, affection, and independence in her spicy, feisty little way. A protective guardian like energy she presents, and must greet anyone whom comes to the house, and she keeps her presence known. Loving she is, and everyone who meets her adores her. Social kitty- she is, she stays ever so present during their visits and is always engaged in what is going on.
In the reality of my routine, she knows when I am having an “off” day, and for me, most people can never pinpoint when that is because I have learned how to mask that place. Those who know me well know what this looks like and Angel does too. In this time I pace one step at a time, or no steps sometimes, to navigate through it. There is no rule on how long it takes me to rebound and I stay in a space that is isolated until I am in a place to return to a more interactive way. During those times I do much of my daily on goings via email or by phone and that is what keeps me connected, and Angel is right there. This is a way for me to regroup and find harmony privately and then interact with people in a timely manner.
In my readings and experience, I’d like to share that I’ve learned that animal-assisted therapy can be as simple as bringing a family pet into the household or as structured as programs that offer horseback riding or swimming with dolphins. Interaction with animals can help children with autism become more physically developed and improve their strength, coordination, and physical abilities. More importantly, many people derive much joy from their relationship with animals, which can help autistic children have a better sense of well-being and more self-confidence.
Animals and Autism: What the Research Says
While more research is still needed and continues today to determine the effects and confirm the benefits of animal-assisted therapy specifically for children with autism, a number of studies have suggested it could help. In the 1970s, psychologist and researcher David Nathanson began studying how interactions with dolphins affected children with disabilities. Nathanson found that being around dolphins could increase a child’s attention, enhance their thinking, help them learn faster, and retain information longer.
Recently, a study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research looked at the effects of interacting with dogs on children with autism spectrum disorders. For the study, children were exposed to a ball, a stuffed dog, or a live dog under the supervision of a therapist. The children who played with the live dog were in a better mood and more aware of their surroundings than the children who were exposed to the ball or stuffed dog.
Trying Animal-Assisted Therapy With Your Autistic Child
If you are interested in animal-assisted therapy for your child, talk with your child’s doctor. There may be horseback-riding, dolphin-therapy, or other animal-therapy programs in your area that the doctor could refer you to.
If you are ready to make the commitment of bringing a pet into your home, you may want to consider a service dog that has been specially trained to work with children with autism. These dogs can be wonderful additions to families of autistic children and can even accompany children when they are away from home, such as at school, helping to keep them calm and comforted. For more information, contact an organization such as Autism Service Dogs of America.