Animal Assisted Therapies
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. For example, it has been claimed that animals can soothe the emotionally distressed, relieve physical pain, reduce heart rate and blood pressure, help with development of motor skills and, in the case of people with ASD, reduce stereotyped behavior, lessen sensory sensitivity, and increase the desire and ability to connect socially with others.
This is an area where more research needs to be done, however, there a few studies who have shown interacting with dogs shows an increase in socially appropriate behavior and a decrease in autistic behaviors like hand-posturing, humming and clicking noises, spinning objects, repetitive jumping, and roaming.
Therapeutic horseback riding, or equine therapy, has long been used for individuals with disabilities such as cerebral palsy. There are also a few studies showing children who took horseback lessons became less irritable, less hyperactive, spoke more words, and showed other improvements, compared to children who didn’t ride.
Additional research has shown children with autism found that those who had a family pet from a young age tended to have greater social skills.
Researchers emphasize the need to consider the child’s sensitivities before getting a pet or using animal-assisted therapies. Some children may have sensitivities to noise or can become agitated if a dog jumps on them or for a dog that barks. Some children with autism may have difficulty understanding how much pressure to use when petting or hugging an animal. The size of a horse could send a child into a state of panic.
For more information on the studies in this field, visit IAN
The Difference Between a Service Animal and a Pet
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Service animals can be trained for a variety of functions including keeping a child safe and preventing wandering, alerting parents to a seizure, and using the dog’s body weight to help a person with autism be relaxed and calm, or even help them sleep. Service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered. The individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls. The animal must be housebroken. Fees for a service dog can run $17,000.
Comfort animals or sometimes called emotional support animals. This type of animal is no different than a pet. It hasn’t received any kind of training. The owner may have a medical letter from a doctor or a mental health professional saying there is a need for the animal for a mental or emotional condition they have, like anxiety or depression. These animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.