Dogs are loyal and affectionate creatures which makes them unique and special from any other animals. Though they also suffer from some diseases such as dog ear infection or skin allergies, dogs provide unconditional and nonjudgmental love way more than other people do. That is the reason why dogs are used as a great source of therapy, comfort, and protection for children with special needs. This has been widely used across the nation as well.
In line with this intervention, some non-profit organizations such as Therapy Dogs of Vermont and Pet Partners aim to support the health benefits and importance of the human-animal relationship. Many dogs are trained to help this campaign. This type of advocacy may help the growing number of children suffering from developmental, emotional or mental disorders. According to the April 2018 update of the US National Center for Education Statistics, 6.7 million students, from 3 to 21 years old, received special education services. From this number, 34% had learning disabilities while others suffered from speech and language impairment (20%), autism (9%), intellectual and developmental disabilities (6%), emotional disturbances (5%), and some other health impairments. Based on this data alone, we can say that children with disabilities require not only medical attention but also therapeutic or natural means of reducing and relieving their symptoms. And with dogs around them, this may be possible. So, to learn more about this approach, let’s identify how a dog can help children with special needs.
Providing comfort and relaxation
A therapy dog may not be able to speak in ways people do, but they offer an incredible companionship and comfort when your kids need it the most. This kind of comfort is beneficial to children with disabilities, especially in the case of Autism and Asperger’s disease. Kids with these conditions normally suffer from difficulties in communicating and are very sensitive to human touch. However, therapy dogs can bring comfort to these kids by helping their brain to relax. It is reported that dogs have a positive impact in releasing certain hormones in a child’s brain. Being with dogs around can induce the release of oxytocin or the “cuddle hormone” which has calming and soothing effects on a child’s nervous system. This natural process can also contribute to your child’s social interaction and communication skills.
Helping to improve your child’s learning skill
Earlier it was mentioned that dogs could help in stimulating the release of certain hormones in a child’s brain. This same biological process has a positive impact on improving a child’s learning skill. When a child shows signs of difficulty in learning and comprehension, it would be a stressful environment for both the parents and the child. This situation usually happens in the case of children with special needs. The struggles of parents to encourage their kids in reading books, talking to other kids or participating in any learning activities may lessen if children have trained dogs helping them. The advantage of having a therapy dog is to make your child relax, allowing your kids to be more comfortable in learning and listening to basic instructions.
Being with dogs can also boost your child’s ability to read. It is less stressful and embarrassing for a child to read books aloud when they are around with dogs rather than with adults or other children. This may become a common behavior for kids to read stories, show photos and talk more often when therapeutic dogs accompany them.
Managing behavioral and emotional problems
Behavioral problems are usually a common manifestation in children with disabilities. This symptom can interfere with emotional development and learning. However, a therapy dog can help parents to manage their kid’s behavioral and emotional problems. Some schools use dogs to improve the kid’s concentration, social interaction, and behavior. Since dogs are naturally stress-soothers, the calming effect of being with them reduces tension and promotes positive behavior to a child with special needs. This is also beneficial for kids with anxiety and depression.
Offering safety and protection
Some children with special needs have repetitive and restricted behavior or motion which can cause them harm. This kind of behavior may compromise their safety and security. However, there are dogs which are trained to be service dogs. The presence of service dogs can be helpful by diverting the child’s attention and bringing them out of the repetitive behavior. This prevents the child from self-harming.
Assisting in motor and physical restriction
Physical and motor disabilities are another manifestation of some children with special needs. Some kids are in a wheelchair because they can’t walk. Being with dogs around, the kid can depend on them to pick up a dropped toy or object. Blind children can be guided by a service dog. In this case, your child can walk independently without the need of assistance from an adult or aide. Thus, this intervention is helping your child to gain independence.
Developing social interaction
Dogs are a great source of bridging connection to other people. This is particularly beneficial for kids with disabilities. Most of the children with special needs have impaired social interaction, making them more difficult to communicate with other people. Trained dogs can help these kids to improve social development and learn about positive or negative reinforcement. Therapy dogs can also be a companion, so interacting with them may trigger your child to talk.
Children with special needs are very prone to wandering. This situation might put your child in danger. It would be frightening for a parent if you won’t be able to find your kid. However, having a trained dog can help you track your kids, leading you in the right direction.
There is no wonder why dogs are “man’s best friends.” They are not just another member of the family, but a helpful companion for your kids, especially those with special needs. With the advantages mentioned above, you may want to consider having a dog for your child. This kind of intervention would not only provide your child with amazing health benefits but also give you peace of mind.