Animal Assisted Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children with spectrum disorders often have social impairments, which impede communication. One therapeutic intervention that is especially beneficial is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Social impairments often impede the child from getting his emotional needs met. Communication and connectivity play a major role. Human interaction is largely based upon language, which causes anxiety in most children with autism. Language deficits and social impairments are closely related. AAT addresses these issues by providing the child with a relational bond to another living creature. This allows for growth and emotional development that is transferable to other people. Some of these developed skills are empathy, other awareness and self-awareness.
Animal assisted therapy can take a variety of forms. Some parents choose to get a family pet and introduce the concept gradually. If the child shows interest in the new pet they will likely benefit from AAT. Specially designed programs are available to suit the interests and needs of the child. Research indicates that children who receive some form of AAT benefit physically and emotionally from the intervention. Animals have proven to be very effective in helping children with ASDs develop bonding capabilities, reducing stress and improving behaviors related to stress. These behaviors are commonly termed as “melt-downs” by family members, caregivers and therapists.
Studies in New Mexico indicated that children with autism who received various forms of AAT demonstrated lowered blood pressure and reduced insomnia. These results indicate that AAT reduces anxiety, which affects most children with autism. Sensory stressors, communication frustrations and environmental factors are all leading causes of anxiety for the child with autism. AAT serves as an intervention for each of these factors.
AAT promotes the development of problem-solving skills and choice-making skills. These skills are developed as the child forms a bond with the animal. Once the bond is established, opportunities for positive exchange are presented. Animal assisted therapy offers the child a safe and structured way to navigate the complexities of emotional bonding. Animals are ideal candidates for emotional bonds because they do not require verbal communication. Many have found that equestrian and canine assisted therapies are most beneficial to establishing relational bonding for children on the spectrum.
Equestrian therapy is reinforcement based. Canine therapy offers more initiation and prompting. Equestrian therapy requires the child to communicate directions to the animal while they are emotionally relaxed. The animal responds when the child is calm and clear. There is no verbal communication required, which takes the pressure off the child to communicate the directions. They simply must relax and respond to the therapist. The animal responds to the child’s successful response. Canine therapy prompts the child to respond to a calming presence and regulate his or her stress. The dogs are trained to detect stress and anxiety. The dogs are conditioned to act in a manner which produces a calming effect on the child. The child, now relaxed, is ready for increased interaction with the dog. A productive back-and-forth communication is established, again without verbal pressure.
Temple Grandin is a famous speaker and author, who obtained her PhD in animal science. She is a person with autism. Dr. Grandin pioneered the modern animal farming industry by changing the way animals are slaughtered and herded. She used her autism to her advantage by seeing through the eyes of the animals and creating more humane and efficient ways to improve the process of meat production. She is also a prominent advocate of animal assisted therapies for individuals with autism. Dr. Grandin promotes AAT for individuals of all ages on the spectrum. While the intervention is a fairly new concept in the autism world, it is showing promising results as it is more widely implemented.
Other Autism Therapies,
1). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Individuals with Autism
2). Aversive Therapy for Autism
3). Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy For Autism
Please check out, Autism FAQ.