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What’s the Best Pet Therapy for Your Child?
There are many benefits to including animals in the life of children with special needs; research shows increased social interactions, empathy, lower blood pressure and heart rates, and lower anxiety. With such positive results, it’s easy to want to run out and get Pet Therapy into our child’s life!
In a previous blog post we discussed the different types of pet therapies, including Animal Assisted Therapy, with either the child visiting therapy animals and having a therapist bring them to the child; Assistance or Service Dog, which is a trained animal living with the child; and a Companion Animal, a pet who is placed or chosen due to their temperament and care needs which compliments a child with special needs.
“You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, ‘My God, you’re right! I never would’ve thought of that!'” ~ Dave Barry
Before you make the decision, here are some things to consider:
1. Goal Tending:
What are your specific goals for your child when it comes to Pet Therapy? There could be a long-term plan – a companion animal can increase empathy and social interaction in a child with autism, for example, or something more specific – resistance to therapy or participation can be motivated to attend and work harder when an animal is present.
Start with a plan drawn up with your team – doctors, social worker, therapist, and teacher – about what the goals are and which type of Pet Therapy might benefit your child.
Other things to take into consideration:
While the benefits of Animal Therapy for children with special needs are so strongly positive, there is also the balancing of what is right for your family. Service, assistance animals and companion pets come with full-time responsibilities for a living creature. Your home and family lifestyle might not be conducive to having a dog join the mix, for example. And outside Animal Therapy might be hindered by allergies.
2. No Room At The Inn!
You’ve decided that Animal Therapy will be a great move for your child with special needs but have run into a lack of time or an allergy for a family member. An alternative you might consider is a non-mammal pet. Did you know watching an aquarium is thought by scientists to stimulate serotonin neurotransmitters into producing more endorphins? This “feel good” hormone produces a feeling of happiness as well as reducing anxiety and leading to health benefits such as lowered blood pressure and a reduction in hyperactivity.
You can also contact a local Aquarium to see if they have programs which invite children with special needs to visit for “up close and personal” time with the attractions. Many Aquariums have regular events, open to families after hours, which take into consideration sensory issues of children with special needs.
You can also consider Therapeutic Horses! No need to have one at your house – there are centers and organizations all over the United States, which provide equine therapy with trained animals and staff. Try Path International to find the location near you.
3. Wonderful – But Expensive
Maybe inviting an Assistance or Service Animal into your home is something you would love to do. You have the room, the desire and the time. But these animals can be expensive to get, as their training is specific and costly, and if you are making the investment, you want to make sure the animal is going to be an asset, not a hindrance to your child!
Fortunately there are organizations that can assist with the costs associated with training and acquiring a service animal.
Did you also know Medicaid may offer assistance as well? Check with your social worker or local Medicaid office.
“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” ~ George Elliot