Monday, April 8, 2013

Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia: Can Animals rescue children

For years, studies have demonstrated the capacity of animals in encouraging social interaction among humans.

People walking a dog are more likely to receive positive social approaches than those walking alone.

Animals have been used in preschool and elementary school settings to serve as a social opportunity for children with and without disabilities.

Animals can also help children with learning and behavioural issues?

A family dog helps the development of a child
Pet therapy was first used by psychiatrist Boris Levison in 1953 – who used a dog to work with autistic children.

Dr. Levinson found the dog provided the child the opportunity to experience internal and external sensations – something the child could not do with people.

"A pet is an island of sanity in what appears to be an insane world. Friendship retains its traditional values and securities in one's relationship with one's pet. Whether a dog, cat, bird, fish, turtle, or what have you, one can rely upon the fact that one's pet will always remain a faithful, intimate, non-competitive friend -- regardless of the good or ill fortune life brings us." - Dr. Boris Levinson, child psychologist

The movie called “After Thomas” popularised the notion of using pets – particularly dogs for children with autism.

The boy in the movie (and in real life) only spoke in repetitive echolalic style sentences and was beyond the reach of his parents. His grandmother suggested the family adopt a dog.

The child flourished as a result of his bond with their pet dog. He is now described as a confident, friendly teenager who plays guitar in a band and also does volunteer work.

Bringing animals into a home of a child with ASD has been related to increased empathy and pro-social behaviour.

Service Dogs
Having a service dog in the home helps the ASD child by improving their mood and sense of well-being.

A published study in PLOS ONE , on February 27, 2013, and another study reported in SAGE compared social interaction between neuro-typical children and children with ASD in the presence of an animal or toys.

Researchers reported that children with ASD showed more social approach behaviors such as talking, looking at faces and making tactile contact as well as received more social approaches from their peers when an animal was present rather than if toys were present.

They also displayed less self-focused behaviours such as crying and whining and more pro-social behaviors such as smiling behaviors when the animals were present.

Therapeutic Riding (hippotherapy) has also shown benefits in children with autism. One study showed a significant decrease in childhood autism rate scale (CARS) after 3-6 months of riding.

Another study showed that therapeutic riding helped with sensory integration, directed attention and improved social motivation while decreasing inattention and distractibility.

In a new study, in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers found that children who participated in therapeutic riding improved their abilities to relate appropriately to people, events or objects; translating into better relationships with classmates.

Also noted were improvement in sensory tolerance and less prompting to participate in school lessons.

Riding horses can help children with ADHD
Researchers at Arizona State University found that children with ADHD who rode horses demonstrated significantly greater improvements in reaction time, movement time, self-esteem, reduced depression, and decreased anxiety when compared to non-riders.

Horses have also provided a unique setting for group ADHD therapy that requires children to interact with one another in order to help the horse through a given scenario.

For instance, if the children are helping the horse through an obstacle course, they need to communicate with one another, be supportive, and handle their emotions.

Parents involved in a study to see if dogs can help with their children’s behavior have also been seeing positive effects.

Researchers and parents are stating their children are calmer which helps them function better at school and do better in subjects and they are also noting improved social skills.

Dogs help children with autism feel more comfortable

Children with dyslexia or difficulty reading are often hesitant to read aloud for fear of being judged and feeling embarrassed but these same children often times feel at ease around a dog who is there just to listen to the story – not to critique their reading abilities.


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