Everyone is familiar with the idea of service or assistance animals – animals specially trained to let people with impairments go about their daily lives safely e.g. guide dogs for visually- or hearing-impaired people.

Many are now also aware of animal assisted therapy, where animals (usually cats, dogs, rabbits and whatnot) provide comfort and stimulation for people in hospital or a care setting. The positive effects on patients’ blood pressure and mood are well documented.

However, did you know that animal assisted therapy can be used to improve the lives of children with special needs and disabilities? Here’s a brief summary of the most common therapies and how they are applied.

Equine therapy

Horse riding can be hugely beneficial for all children, both emotionally and socially, as they bond with the animal and gain a sense of achievement from controlling its movements.

However, the activity can also be used as a form of therapy for those with physical impairments.

It has been reported that experiencing the three-dimensional movements of the animal while on its back have helped children with a range of special needs to develop their motor skills, strengthen core stability and it can even reduce spasms and improve posture and coordination.

Find out more:

Riding for the Disabled UK 

Path International (USA/International)

Canine therapy

Dogs are well-known as being sociable and affectionate animals, which makes interacting with them an enjoyable and therapeutic activity. But dogs are also being included in some occupational therapy activities.

For example, children with neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy can be asked to pet or groom a dog in order to build up strength and dexterity in limbs and hands.

Research (www.articlesbase.com/health-articles/the-benefits-of-animal-therapy-for-autism-511378.html) shows that children with autism can benefit from time with a therapy dog. Its calm presence, simple methods of communication, fondness for routine and rules have produced positive results in helping children on the autistic spectrum to relax and communicate.

Find out more:

Dogs for the Disabled (UK)

Therapy Dogs International

Dolphin therapy

Swimming with dolphins is a joyous experience, but there are many centres offering this activity as a form of physical and developmental therapy for children (and adults) with disabilities and impairments. Water-based activities are popular for children with physical disabilities as the water can be weight-bearing and soothing. Therapist-led interaction with these friendly swimming mammals is known to be stimulating, non-threatening, and can aid development of communication skills.

Find out more:

The Henry Spink Foundation

Island Dolphin Care

Farm-animal therapy

This is another type of therapy that is thought to be particularly effective for children with autistic spectrum disorders. Learning about and tending to animals in a structured, safe environment proves beneficial for social skills, communication and understanding of boundaries.

Find out more:

Green Chimneys Farm and Wildlife Centre

Creative Therapy Care (these guys even have a llama on their farm!)

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