Special Needs for Special Pets: Animal Therapy Success Stories
Here are some sensational stories of autistic children who found solace through animal therapy. Have you hugged your Horse today?
Meet Rowan. Diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Rowan used to have 12 toddler temper tantrums per day. But unlike typical temper tantrums experienced by non-autistic kids, these fits were explosive and potentially harmful. It was all his parents, Rupert and Kristin Isaacson, could do to keep him from injuring himself: stay calm, keep him secure and hope.
Mama horse “adopts” boy
Then, an amazing thing happened. While on a walk with his dad, Rowan came across a small group of horses who were grazing outside their property in Elgin, Texas. Rowan impetuously ran towards them and flung himself on the ground underneath their bodies, a move that could have resulted in debilitating injuries or death. Then, the old mare of the pack, Betsy, casually sauntered over and, using her muzzle, gently “elbowed” all the horses away from the small boy.
On the backs of horses
It became clear to Rupert, a long-time horse trainer, that Betsy might be the answer to their prayers. He began taking Rowan on horseback rides around the area, and found that the horses’ swaying canter had a relaxing, therapeutic effect on Rowan. The boy who used to have meltdowns every hour of the day at home became content and focused on the back of a horse. Incorporating applied behavioral analysis in their homeschooling program, Rupert and his wife cured their son of his symptoms of autism, if not the disability itself. Today, their Horse Boy Foundation exists to help low-income families affected by autistic spectrum disorder receive horse therapy.
The Isaacson’s story is just one example of many families who successfully utilized animal therapy in treating their children with autism.
Animals provide autistic children with unconditional love
Recently, a Santa Ana, California judge awarded permission for Caleb Ciriacks, a first-grade autistic boy, to take his service dog, a golden retriever named Eddy, to school next semester when he begins second grade.
Many other such stories abound, like the one about Richard, the autistic son of a widower, who found his words through cat therapy. Or the 15-year old autistic kids, twins in Doncaster, U.K., who learned how to cope with their Asperger’s syndrome by training bunny rabbits for pet shows.
A recent report by CBS News documented a growing trend in animal-assisted therapy involving the use of elephants to help autistic children in Thailand.
Learn about programs that offer pet-assisted therapy in your area.
Visit Alternative Solutions in Long Term Care for a list of state by state animal assisted programs.