Pets can help students with special needs in so many different ways. They can be used in therapy to help calm students or to provide a non-threatening communication aide. Animals can also be used for physical therapy to help strengthen muscles. The animal most associated with helping children with special needs is the dog; however horses and dolphins are also regularly used in therapy and assistance.
Leader Dogs for the Blind
I grew up in a town that has an organization called Leader Dogs for the Blind. This group trains dogs and provides them to individuals with visual impairments to help them lead a more independent and mobile life. This is the only program in the United States to train individuals who are deaf and blind to work with a guide dog.
Volunteers raise the dogs through their first year on socialization and obedience. After the dog has been trained, the individual receiving the dog goes through a month long program where they learn how to interact and work with the dog, including teaching the dog sign language. The program is free to the recipient of the dog. Their website has additional information along with inspirational stories and videos of individuals working with the guide dogs.
Leader Dogs for the Blind also has a program for students to get involved with their organization. There are materials on their website with lesson plans for teachers about vision and leader dogs. This could be a great organization for students to get involved with and help raise money for this great organization.
Dolphin Human Therapy
There are two organizations that employ the use of animals to assist students with special needs in the area where I currently live: Dolphin Human Therapy and Horses for the Handicapped. Dolphin Human Therapy, based out of Miami, is an organization that helps individuals with special needs through swimming with dolphins. After one or two weeks of interaction the dolphin’s, students showed gains in speech, language, motor , and behavior skills. Families and teachers are closely involved during the process. The dolphin therapy was a successful motivator for the students. Dolphin Human Therapy does not currently run therapy programs in Miami, but now helps other organizations to build similar programs based on their research findings.
Horses and the Handicapped
Horses and the Handicapped is another South Florida based program where students with special needs can ride horses. The horses help to provide a connection for the students and gains have been made including physical, mental, and emotional aspects. The program has grown tremendously over the past 20 years and now runs a summer program for students with special needs along with serving over 130 riders. Their facilities include a covered arena and technology equipment to help riders on and off the horses. Many local high school students volunteer their time to help this program. Riders have also been involved in the local and State Special Olympic Equestrian matches.
There are also many other organization around the country that train various animals to help individuals with special needs. Check out local organizations near you to volunteer or to gain more information for your students and their parents!
Article By Laura Ketcham
Picture By Velo Steve