In Cathedral City California, a couple is using therapy dogs to help students with disabilities feel more confident about themselves. The couple, Michael Neu and Karen Meyer, go into local elementary and high schools and teach the children the importance of self-esteem and life skills. Initially the couple has the students get to know the dogs by grooming them, feeding them, and taking them for walks. At first the students are shy or unsure, but the more they interact with the dogs, the more they open up. Once the students learn the basics they take them to various places such as parks, stores, and restaurants. The students even had a chance to go to a local vet to get a behind the scenes look at how a veterinarian’s office ran. One student went from being nonverbal to verbal. The couple primarily helps students in the transition phase, which means, they won’t get a diploma because they can no longer do the coursework, but still need to learn functional living skills.
Other places such as the Good Dog Foundation, volunteers part of it’s time to help autistic students with educational goals. Another school in Georgia, allows autistic children to train puppies in socialization, while receiving therapy themselves. The children help socialize the dogs, which means, they have to take the dog and expose them to different places and people. The children can answer basic questions such as how old the dog is, and what the dog’s name is. The children are socializing and gaining more confidence in the area of socialization.
As an ABA therapist I often see children open up to a puppet, such as Buddy and Echo. They will tell the puppets about their day, what happened at school, and even give them a hug goodbye. I have also seen them get excited around dogs and start speaking to them. Animals have a far greater effect than sometimes we even know, and it will be exciting to see what future research will be done on the relationship between animals and autism.
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