Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy has been found to have a positive effect on the physical, emotional and social aspects of children’s development. Animals have been studied in a number of different contexts with children and youth, including in therapeutic settings. Specifically, it has been beneficial for children with on the autism spectrum, with a pervasive developmental disorder, and children with emotional or behavioural disorders. 

Green and Red Cheerful Foliage Christmas

 

For children and youth that struggle with mental health and social challenges, having animals present in the therapeutic setting can help create the supportive environment they need to participate in successfully. Seeing a friendly animal acts as an emotional stimulus and causes the release of endorphins, leading to an enhanced feeling of well-being. The interaction with animals also stimulates a surge of Oxytocin, a hormone that is naturally produced in the human body that has a calming and relaxing effect. According to the 2012 Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health, animal-assisted interventions have been shown to be therapeutically beneficial for children and youth in the following ways:

 

1) Animals can act as a “social lubricant”, making the perceived environment more friendly and helping the clients feel safe and comfortable in the therapeutic setting.

 

2) Animals can also “regulate the emotional climate” with their enthusiastic greetings; this can help build rapport and help clients feel more comfortable.

 

3) The presence of an animal can provide support for the child during emotional challenges. The child may find it easier to develop trust with the animal, as they perceive it to be non-judgmental, prior to trusting others.

Mental Health and Social Challenges

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) 

There have been a number of studies examining the effects of Animal Assisted Therapy on children with a diagnosis of ASD or PDD. Children have shown increased interpersonal skills and a significant increase in pro-social behaviour such as laughing, looking at the therapist, giving treats, talking about themselves, and responding to questions with detailed explanations.  Some researchers suggest that children may be able to enhance their capacity to build relationships by using animals as an initial step to social interactions.