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Animal Assisted Therapy for Children with Special Needs

Animal assisted therapy is a very useful program in treating psychological and emotional problems of children with special needs. In this method, animals like birds and domesticated pets are being used to treat cases of children which are hard to accomplish when employed with regular therapy. This is because of the children’s young minds were exposed to such matters that they can’t comprehend.

This method of therapy is also being used for children with physical and metal disabilities. These children include those who have autism and other mental disabilities, as well as those who are disabled even at a young age. With animal assisted therapy, these children can interact with the animals, which somewhat improves their interaction skills as much as a normal child can.
Pets and children with autism

In an article written Nicholas and Collis, it states that “autism manifests itself most strikingly as impairments in communication and in the formation of social relationships (McNicholas & Collis, 1995).” However, there are reports regarding the close relationships being formed by these autistic children with animals and pets. It is difficult to obtain a quantitative data regarding the response of these autistic children towards animals. The researchers however, based the results through interviews with the parents of these children.

They are able to see the “normal” functioning being attributed by these children since the parents knows how their kids react. Through in depth-interviews, the researchers came up with the qualitative data showing that these autistic people. Through the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, they were able to diagnose that some of these are severely autistic and some were moderately autistic. All of these have showed aggression towards their parents and relatives before.
The ones interviewed were mostly the mother of the autistic child. These mothers were asked to asses how their child responded with the introduction o these pets. It showed that there were several behaviour changes in the child, especially in the field of relationship between the child and the pets, and between the child and other people. The aspects to be considered were greeting, seeking of closeness or proximity, seeking and giving of comfort, conflicts, companionship, play, and many more.

The qualitative results for the interview showed that all of the subjects that were studied showed different behaviours which they rarely or even so, never showed with their other family members and other hum companions. These pets were mostly sought after because they serve as these children’s companions, providing comfort and serves as their confidant – the things they rarely or never show to their family members. These children showed greater sensitivity for whatever the animals need, as well as their lack of anger and signs of aggression towards their pets. These children never liked being touched or hugged by other people, but when it comes to their pets, they like tactile comfort the feel with their pets.

The implication of this research is about that they can fully show their capability to interact and express their feelings just like normal human beings do. However, this is only expressed with animals and pets. Autism may be able to demonstrate behaviours towards pets which they don’t usually show to people, even with their family members. Their ability to establish close relationships may be awakened with these animal assisted visits and therapy. Through these, they are able to relate and interact with the animals, and possibly with other people, starting with their parents.

Pets and lonely handicapped children

Animal assisted therapy can be very useful in reducing loneliness. According to an article by Duncan, “loneliness is a condition that crosses all gender, ethnic and socioeconomic barriers (Duncan, 1995).” If loneliness can affect normal people, then surely, handicapped children will be greatly affected by loneliness. There are times that having a handicap can be a restriction for many people to interact with others. In the case of handicapped children, they are hindered from interacting with other people, especially with other young children just like them. This would mostly lead to a feeling of loneliness for these children, which would greatly affect their feelings and emotions.
According to Duncan, “factors that can lead to loneliness or are symptoms of loneliness – disability, loss of employment, diminished financial reserves, change in family structure and family member roles, availability of health care, lack of competitive level of education – are no longer only problems of the aging (Duncan, 1995).” This implies that even young ones are susceptible to these problems. This is the part which companion animals come in. They offer companion to lonely people, young and old. They keep them from being lonely by always being there, a pet by the side whenever the need be. Young children with disabilities can have a pet to cheer him up and keep him from being sad and lonely. It changes the mood of the person, as well as their outlook in life.

These programs are very useful in the cases of children with deep psychological and emotional problems (Crossroads Group, 1998). These children are those who have experienced abuse from their family and other people. It could either be physical abuse or sexual abuse which has greatly affected their emotions, often leading to depression and feeling of being unwanted by the society. Through this animal assisted therapy, they will be opened to ways of understanding how they will be acceptable to the society, that there is a healing process. These animals play a role which the children can associate, like being unwanted animals being cared for by other people. Animal Assisted Therapy aims on helping these children live normal lives despite the hardships that they have suffered.

The pets also play a very good role as support for the people who are survivors of sexual abuse. According to a research done by Barker, et al, “Although research documents a child’s need for social and emotional support and suggests that pets may help meet that need, little has been done to investigate the supportive role of pets for high risk children (Barker, Barker, Dawson, & Knisely, 1995).” The research showed that these pets are much more considered supportive by the people who were sexually abused as compared to other people.
The most credible facts in this therapy are that various animals play a great role in the healing process of these children. Even though they are animals, they can lessen the pain that these children are suffering and helping them recover. The less credible fact tackled was about how animals could sympathize with these children. There is no basis to say that these animals can feel what the children can feel (Blackman, 2003).

I would be very inclined to use this pet therapy to children with special needs because it is there emotion that we’re dealing with. We can’t use the approaches being used on adults because it is of different context. The children’s concept about the world and the society is just forming, and if you would employ the methods used for adults, their reaction as well as the outcome of the therapy would actually be different.

Barker, S. B., Barker, R. T., Dawson, K. S., & Knisely, J. S. (1995). The Supportive Role of Pets in the Childhood of Sexual Abuse Survivors. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from
Blackman, D. (2003). Visiting Pets and Animal Assisted Therapy. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from
Crossroads Group. (1998). What is Animal Assisted Therapy? Retrieved September 20, 2007, from
Duncan, S. L. (1995). Loneliness: A Health Hazard of Modern Times. Interactions, Volume 13(Issue 1).
McNicholas, J., & Collis, G. M. (1995). Relationships Between Young People with Autism and Their Pets. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from