Friday, December 10, 2010

Animal Therapy and the Developmentally Disabled

"Though equine assisted therapy is increasing in popularity, there are other types of animal assisted therapy that have been found effective as well.
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Canine therapy is the most common and seems to be especially successful with emotionally troubled people (both children and adults). A dog's ability to empathize and to physically interact often helps emotionally closed people by creating a safe relationship in which they can let their guard down.

Donkeys are sometimes used as well, in programs that are very similar to equine programs. The gentle nature of donkeys, and their smaller stature, makes them less intimidating for children who may be easily scared by a horse.

Dolphin Assisted Therapy (D.A.T.) is also increasing in popularity, especially in Europe. DAT programs are typically much shorter than equine programs, lasting only 7 - 14 days. The primary goal with DAT is reduction of stress and overall improvement of emotional health. The best results are achieved by patients who have neurological disorders like chronic fatigue syndrome, phobias, and depression. A handful of doctors in Europe have spent decades researching DAT, and have seen extraordinary positive effects in these types of patients.

Though cats aren't as easy to include in AAT programs (mainly because more people are allergic to them), some programs work very well in assisted living and nursing homes. Because cats are calmer, older people are often more comfortable with them than with dogs. Cats are also able to get physically closer to a patient (sitting in her lap, for example) than most dogs, and the closeness can provide added comfort and ease feelings of loneliness in older patients.

Other small animals are often used as well; rabbits, birds, even fish. The smaller animals are great for older patients, or in group homes and other residential settings. The presence of an animal can make a clinical setting feel more like home, and help patients relax."

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