For kids with special needs, having a pet animal in the house can make a world of difference in their physical independence and emotional well-being. Around the world, service and therapy animals are being trained to help people with a variety of issues.
Let us take a look at how animals are being a support to special needs people:
- Service Animals – Most of the service animals are dogs. Service dogs are highly trained to perform meaningful physical service to a person with physical disability. They have a special legal status and can accompany their owners everywhere.
- Emotional Support Animals – They are medically prescribed by a doctor to provide support for a single disabled person. They are not highly trained but provide necessary support and comfort to people who need them.
- Therapy Animals – They are pets that have been trained and belong to someone who brings them to facilities for therapeutic purposes. They do not belong to any single disabled individual and they often visit nursing homes, hospitals or clinics to provide stress relief and comfort.
Role of Animals in providing therapy for Special needs children
Service and emotional support animals can be of great help to special needs children. When trained properly, these warm and friendly companions can do a lot for your child:
- They can guide a child who is blind, deaf, or has focus issues to cross the roads safely, avoid obstacles, and avoid collisions with others.
- Alert others to an event, such as a seizure which requires immediate medical attention
- Help pull a wheelchair or provide physical support for transferring, balance and other needs
- Help to pick up dropped items
- Support learning by attending to the child as he or she reads aloud
- Provide companionship and emotional support
- Build the child’s self-esteem
- Help manage anxiety and mood-related challenges
- Help model appropriate behaviors such as how to relax in bed, rise for the day, respond to requests etc.
Before choosing an animal to help support your special needs child, ask yourself these questions:
- Is your child old enough to work with and to whatever extent possible, care for an animal?
- Are the child’s needs likely to be met by an animal? A therapy animal may not be the ideal choice for a child who is afraid of animals or one who is likely to ignore or neglect them.
- Will you be able to make a long-term commitment to an animal that may become a part of your family?
- Can the animal help achieve your child’s goal? For example, an emotional support dog may delight a child with autism but it may also wind up being a substitute for necessary human interactions.
Although an animal can help in a myriad ways, no matter what the child’s needs are – it is important to remember that animals are living beings with feelings. They also need a safe environment and owners who are capable of understanding its needs and limitations. Having said that, they can be the best friends that your special needs child can ever have.