Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has already become an established concept in rehabilitation programs.
AAT, such as dog therapy, gained popularity among healthcare professionals because of its potential benefits for recovering patients(1).
During brain rehabilitation, survivors of trauma, disease, or injury frequently find support and comfort from companion animals.
For example, animals can boost recovery efforts for brain injury or stroke by providing patients with emotional support. Some ways animals may assist patients include:
- Providing comfort for individuals suffering from loneliness
- Reducing negative feelings
- Aiding in motor recovery
- Supporting people with aphasia (a language disorder)(2)
- Giving owners a sense of purpose
Aside from emotional support, trained animals can also provide additional assistance measures for individuals with special needs. These other assistance measures may fall within the following categories:
Animals that provide service: Trained service dogs (or even tiny horses) can assist people with disabilities, such as vision impairments, mental illnesses, seizure disorders, or diabetes.
A service animal can help individuals recuperating from a brain injury with balance and walking.
By right of the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs may access areas ordinarily closed to animals, such as restaurants(3).
Animals that provide emotional comfort: ESAs, or emotional support animals, are trained animals that can give treatment through companionship.
If you correctly observe specific protocols, you can consider ESAs as pets with the ability to access situations that are otherwise off-limits to animals, such as airlines.
Animals that assist with therapy: Animal-assisted therapy, or AAT, refers to the training of animals to bring comfort and affection to people in schools, hospitals, and clinics.
A single therapy animal (typically a dog) can help many individuals in a therapeutic context.
However, did you know that pet therapy dogs can assist children with impairments to have a better life?
How Therapy Dogs Benefit Children with Disabilities
Therapeutic dogs bring comfort and can aid in the relaxation of a child’s brain.
Brain function can be boosted by having healthy personal relationships with those around you. Similarly, you may choose a therapy dog for your child.
The dog’s presence can positively impact the neurotransmitters (the body’s chemical messengers) released by the brain.
One study showed that oxytocin and cortisol levels in dogs and their owners correlated with how owners engage with their pets and the behaviors that result from that contact(4).
Also known as the cuddle chemical, oxytocin is a hormone associated with the formation of trust and relationship building(5). This hormone soothes and calms the nervous system, boosting cognitive function in children.
Cortisol, on the other hand, is known as the stress hormone.
Cortisol influences many elements of your body. However, it primarily regulates your body’s stress response(6).
Dogs from a certified therapy dog organization are caring and friendly. Spending time with these animals can be helpful and enjoyable for children with disabilities.
For example, Heel 2 Heal (H2H), a Florida-based therapy dog association, participated in the monthly Sensory Friendly Saturday at Miami Children’s Museum.
Sensory Friendly Saturday provides a sensory-friendly experience for children with disabilities and their families. H2H therapy dogs could provide visitors with a therapeutic experience during this event.
Which Children Can Benefit from Therapy Dogs?
Children with various physical, emotional, and mental problems may benefit from animal-assisted therapy.
Due to its range of potential benefits, healthcare professionals frequently use AAT with other therapy or therapies.
Children with the following problems have found animal-assisted treatment to be beneficial(7):
- Behavioral disorders
- Muscular dystrophy
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Developmental or cognitive disabilities
- Autism spectrum disorder
How Therapy Dogs Boost Cognitive Function in Children with Disabilities
When a child has difficulty learning, reading and writing can be tricky. This limitation may frustrate and stress them; as a result, carrying out their daily tasks becomes even more challenging.
Therapeutic dogs, on the other hand, may relax and calm children. The child begins to feel less worried and more relaxed due to regular puppy therapy sessions.
Dog therapy can benefit children with learning difficulties in a variety of ways.
One study showed that dog-assisted therapy could be a helpful addition to standard treatment methods for children with cerebral palsy and other physical and mental problems(8).
Studies also suggested that time spent with a therapy dog can be highly beneficial for children on the autism spectrum(9).
As you can see, animal-assisted therapy has various advantages. For AAT programs, reputable therapy dog organizations can provide certified therapy dogs. These organizations’ professionals can collaborate with parents and caregivers of disabled children to develop the best therapy dog programs to help the child gain confidence.