Animals Used in Autism Therapy

Jan 17, 2011
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Autism is a developmental disorder which affects the social and communication areas of brain functioning.  Service animals are often employed in the treatment of Autism to help increase socialization behaviors and decrease other symptoms of autism. The following are some animals used in Autism Therapy (AT) and how they are used.

Horse therapy or hippotherapy uses rhythm and balance on the horse to help increase balance, relax muscles and increase hand/eye coordination.  Due to the excitement of riding, often the non-verbal child will speak to the horse to get it moving, aiding in the improvement of the child’s speech and social skills.

Dogs especially those that have grown up with the family learn early to anticipate inappropriate behaviors right away. They help redirect the child toward safety, alert parents of potential danger, and provide emotional support for the child.

Cats similar to dogs, cats can provide a watchful eye to a child with autism. In the UK, a Bengal cat named Pushkin watches over her young owner with autism making sure that he stays out of trouble.  Cats can alert their owners to danger by sitting on their chest or using their paws to get attention.

Dolphin Assisted Therapy has been stated to increase communication and motor abilities of children with autism.  Children ride on the dolphin. However, some believe that it is an expensive therapy that wastes money.

Potbellied pig Due to a lack of response the family’s pet dog and cat, a child with autism in Fayetteville, North Carolina, quickly bonded to the potbellied pig.  According to his mother, the pig helped to bring her son out of his shell and gave him a sense of responsibility when caring for his pet pig.  He stopped wetting the bed and started interacting with others.  Unfortunately, the local authorities have removed the pet from the home. The family is currently fighting to get the pig back as their son has begun regressing back into his shell.

A Guinea pig was given to a small group of autistic children in a study by Krskova, Talarovicova, and Olexova. The guinea pig had a positive effect on the amount of socialization within five out of the nice children with autism.  Observations included hand touching between participants while stroking the animal, eye winks, and increased verbal communication.  The children showed increased social interaction in period 2 when they interacted with the guinea pig then they did in period 1 when they interacted with an unfamiliar person.

A Tortoise helped a six-year old boy with Autism come out of his shell.  For the first time ever a mother heard her son speaking to a turtle.  When the turtle is stolen and severely injured the young boy went back into his shell and started re-experiencing seizures. The turtle was found and went through some intensive therapy. Since then, the young boy has begun talking but mentions the incident daily.

Often, children with autism will socially and communicatively interact with service animals then they would another human being.  Besides a sense of responsibility toward the animal, children with autism Other animals successfully used in Autism Therapy (AT) include rats, ferrets, hamsters, and rabbits.

Author: Melissa

  • Mold Testing

    Great site and I look forward to checking out your updates!

  • Wolfysluv

    Please google and search YouTube for “Sean and Rocky”. Sean was moderately autistic and made significant gains with the aid of a ferret. The results were documented on film and can be seen on YT and read about on his website or at the Modern Ferret magazine website in issue number 29.
    Rebecca Stout

  • Kyle Soler

    I’m autistic I like most of those ideas except the dolphin one well its bad because its just another way for the multi billion dolphin business to exploit the animal its bad for the dolphin , the family of the autistic child , and the child its self If I was the parent of an autistic child I would rather chose horse assisted therapy plus its cheaper and it doesn’t damage the environment.

  • bobl07

    Thank you for your comments.

  • Summit1Gay

    Yo, is that dolphin autistic?