Have you ever seen a service dog helping someone at the grocery store? Dog therapy has been an effective tool for people with Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and now autism. Autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder, can affect the person’s cognitive, communicative, and social skills. Dogs, particularly Labradors, have proved to be therapeutic for people with autism, as they are “genetically predisposed” to being happy. [i]
When Jiyon Ganguly was diagnosed with autism, he began receiving therapy and medication to improve his social and behavioral skills. However, his mother, Parama Bhattacharya was not seeing a tangible improvement, and looked into dog therapy. “In the West, therapy dogs have been found to be highly useful for children with such conditions. I wanted to give it a try.” The mother bought Simbaa, a 4-week-oldLabradorto get trained at the Andheri-based Animal Angel Foundation run by Rohini Fernandes and Radhika Nair.
The process of training a service dog is rigorous, as the dogs are judged on 15 parameters including its reaction to hugging, loud noises, interaction with strangers, and ability to follow commands. Simbaa fit the parameters and passed the test, and was given to Jiyon to begin therapy. Jiyon, diagnosed as high-functioning, was having difficultly communicating in full sentences, rather than one word requests. Having Simbaa helped him use full sentences to communicate his wants and needs, and also helped him control his negative behaviors. If Jiyon requested “ball” and not “I want ball,” Simbaa would not respond. If he was having a tantrum, Simbaa would simply walk away from him. His mother could not have been more thrilled and comforted by the progress her son was making.
There are many therapies available for people with autism, including Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy. These combinations, with dog therapy, can enhance a child’s life dramatically in all developmental areas.
[i] “The Times of India” Animal therapy works wonders for autistic kids. 26 Jun 2013. Web. <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health/Animal-therapy-works-wonders-for-autistic-kids/articleshow/20775650.cms>