Explore the benefits of animal-assisted therapy these school holidays
For many of us, animals — especially dogs — are our greatest friends and companions.
This special relationship often has even more meaning for children with Autism, according to Leonie Case, a Lead Occupational Therapist with See Differently, and the facilitator of the organisation’s Animal Assisted Therapy program.
“Dogs don’t provide any judgement, they’re always there with a happy face ready to greet you,” Leonie said.
“Even children who might be non-verbal can communicate with a dog just by patting it, or using them for emotional support if they need to block out things around them that might be too overwhelming, or overstimulating.”
For the past 18 months, Leonie, along with a team of Occupational Therapists and dog trainers at See Differently, have been working on developing the Animal Assisted Therapy School Holiday program, which is being held from Tuesday 17 January to Thursday 19 January 2023 at See Differently’s child-friendly Gilles Plains site.
Tailored to children with Autism and other sensory processing difficulties, the school holiday program allows up to four children to have therapy sessions alongside an Occupational Therapist, a dog trainer, and a specially trained therapy dog.
The program is designed to support children to build their confidence, communication skills and regulate their emotions.
Studies have shown that children with Autism who spend time with a pet, such as a dog, often have better social skills and are more assertive.
“It can really help children with Autism to increase their communication and it can help regulate their emotions, reduce anxiety in new environments and develop an awareness of dogs as well,” Leonie said.
“It can also help them work on fine motor skills, gross motor skills and social skills.”
Leonie said therapy dogs have also been shown to assist a child increase their concentration and achieve their goals in their therapy sessions.
“When they’re in the therapy session, because they feel relaxed when the dog is there, they are generally able to communicate a lot better,” she said.
The school holiday program will complement See Differently’s other Animal Assisted Therapy programs, including individual therapy sessions during the school term with a 10 week program commencing in 2023. We are excited to open up our wait list for this new program.
So far, the response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents have reported that their children are better able to foster a therapeutic relationship with the dog, other family members, and even other pets at home.
“We had one child take part who has really increased his verbal communication skills, and been willing to go and greet a new person which he normally wouldn’t have the confidence to do,” Leonie said.
“With the dog there, he’s been happy to approach a person and repeat their name and have that connection.
“We have other children who usually can’t go outside of their environment or their normal home, but the therapy dog makes them comfortable enough to walk around an unfamiliar environment.
“It’s really special.”
To register for See Differently’s Animal Assisted Therapy School Holiday program or individual therapy sessions, click here.
For more information about how See Differently’s Animal Assisted Therapy team can support your child, contact us at 1300 944 306 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.