What are some ways to involve an assistance dog or therapy dog into therapy sessions with children with autism?
Involving an assistance dog or therapy dog in therapy sessions with children with autism can be a beneficial and positive experience. Here are some ways to incorporate these dogs into therapy sessions:
- Consult with professionals: Seek guidance from professionals experienced in both autism therapy and assistance/therapy dog programs. They can provide valuable insights and help tailor the intervention to meet the specific needs of the child.
- Assess compatibility: Ensure that the child is comfortable and not fearful of dogs. Conduct a gradual introduction and assess their response to the presence of the assistance dog or therapy dog.
- Establish routines and predictability: Children with autism often thrive in structured environments. Establish consistent routines for therapy sessions that involve the dog. This can provide predictability and help the child feel more at ease.
- Set clear goals: Collaborate with the therapy team to set clear goals for incorporating the assistance dog or therapy dog into the sessions. Goals can be related to social interaction, communication, emotional regulation, or sensory needs.
- Incorporate dog-related activities: Include activities that involve the dog in therapy sessions. For example, the child can practice giving commands to the dog, participating in grooming activities, or playing interactive games.
- Utilise the dog as a motivator: Dogs can be powerful motivators for children with autism. Use the presence of the dog as a reward or reinforcement for completing therapy tasks or achieving specific goals.
- Teach appropriate interaction: Help the child learn appropriate ways to interact with the dog, such as petting gently, using a calm voice, and respecting the dog’s boundaries. Teach them to recognise signs of the dog’s discomfort or stress and how to respond appropriately.
- Encourage emotional connection: Dogs can provide emotional support and comfort. Encourage the child to develop a bond with the dog, allowing them to express their emotions, share experiences, and form a trusting relationship.
- Generalise skills: Help the child transfer the skills learned with the assistance dog or therapy dog to other social situations. This can include practicing greetings, turn-taking, or sharing in the presence of the dog and then gradually applying those skills in different settings.
- Evaluate progress: Continuously assess the effectiveness of the intervention and make adjustments as needed. Regularly communicate with the therapy team, dog handlers, and the child’s caregivers to monitor progress and address any challenges.
Remember, involving an assistance dog or therapy dog in therapy sessions requires careful planning, supervision, and consideration of the child’s individual needs and preferences. It is essential to work closely with professionals who can provide guidance and support throughout the process.
Leanne Hopkins is an Occupational Therapist at Succeed Healthcare Solutions and is passionate about creating a world where families thrive. If you are a parent or carer who would like canine assisted therapy for your child, please contact us and arrange a free 15-minute Discovery Interview to see how we can assist.