Natan Shai loves his animal therapy at school and also our pet dog at home, so I decided to write an article about animal therapy for special needs and how it can help our kids in so many different ways. It is actually quite a simple kind of therapy as you will see in the following post.
Most people have heard of animals helping in ways like for example, serving the police force, or for guiding the blind, but only recently people have become more aware of how animals can help in so many other ways that are unconventional, like for example animal therapy for special needs children.
What Is Animal Therapy And How Can It Help?
This type of therapy is quite well known today and it has even been scientifically researched as to how pets influence humans in many different ways. From the results of this research, it is known that animals affect humans on three main different levels: on the emotional level, the social level and the physical level. For example, animals can help relieve feelings of loneliness, can give attention and love, and can even improve the self-image. I for one wouldn’t have thought about the benefits of pets on such a deep level.
In addition, it was also found that animals can moderate the emotional and behavioural response to stress, distress, and anxiety. It has been found that the overall health of pet owners is better than that of people who do not raise pets, including having an effect on blood triglyceride levels and blood pressure. Since these scientific findings of the effect of animals on people who care for them have been so overwhelmingly positive, a whole new therapeutic field has begun which uses animals to aid many different ailments. Pretty amazing eh?
Natan Shai has a special program in his school where they bring different animals in every week to give the kids different experiences. He gets to hold them and stroke them. As you can see from the pictures he loves it and is having an absolute blast.
How Can Animals Help Children With Severe Brain Damage?
The most common therapeutic interventions today are horseback riding, petting farms, and caring for cats and dogs. These therapies are amazing and help children with severe brain damage in many different ways. The patient meets the animal therapist together with the animal and the treatment can be done in a wide variety of ways. By identifying with the animal, the patient’s inner world can be explored, it can improve communication skills and even help with fine or crude motor skills among other things.
Personally, we’ve tried horseback riding with Natan Shai and it was great! Of course, someone needs to sit with him on the horse but it was all in all a wonderful experience for him and also for us watching him 🙂 Truth is I also LOVE horseback riding myself. The place we take him to is an American-style ranch in the middle of the forest and they play country music and wear cowboy hats which really does help to get you into the atmosphere of things.
Treatment via animal therapy varies according to the goals that are wished to be achieved and according to the level of brain damage and the symptoms, the patient suffers from. It also varies as to which animal is being used for the therapy. Many people with mental disabilities have feelings of inferiority in the wake of insults and disrespect from the environment, (although I would like to think that by raising awareness this terrible attitude is beginning to change.) Thus, by riding a horse, for example, one can strengthen self-confidence and self-image. In addition, the encounter with an animal that is pleasant to touch and is not threatening as well as giving unconditional love often leads to a very positive animal therapy session.
The only real thing that can go wrong with this type of therapy if done properly, is the fact that many children have allergies from pet fur. If you know that your child has a known allergy then this is obviously something that needs to be considered and probably best avoided. Although an allergic reaction to cats fur might not necessarily mean that it will be the same next to a dog.
If you’re not sure then start the therapy sessions slowly, making shorter sessions to start off with and check for any allergic reactions. Sneezing is definitely one of the main ones, but the itching is also associated. As your child may not be able to tell you if something is itching then pay special attention to his/her mood after the session is over.
Swimming With The Dolphins
Another amazing form of animal therapy and something a little bit off of the beaten path is swimming with the dolphins! This is something I would definitely like to try with Natan Shai if we ever have the possibility. He would love it for sure. He already goes to hydrotherapy once a week so he is very used to the water. In Eilat which is in the south of Israel, we have a special beach where this would be possible so I’m going to seriously look into this. Dolphins are well known for their sensitivity and communication skills.
What If I Don’t Have Access To Animal Therapy Where I Live?
If you don’t have access to this kind of therapy and don’t have a pet yourself for whatever reason, another great idea is to become friendly with a friend or neighbours cat or dog. Or maybe someone in your family has a pet? Of course, the dog or cat would need to have a great temperament and would ideally need to be used to being around kids, as well as having had all of his vaccines. But if it works out it definitely could give your kid a chance to pet an animal and create an emotional connection to it, especially if you can visit frequently.
Has your child had animal therapy? I’d love to hear about it if so and how it affected him/her. Please let me know in the comments below. If you would like to include a picture that would be awesome!
If you have any other ideas about animal therapy for special needs children then please let me know below 🙂
In the meantime continue having a great week and feel free to browse around Natan Shai’s site to see other relevant articles about special needs and different articles that can help and interest you 🙂
With much love,
Hannah (Natan Shai’s Mom)