Thursday, April 26, 2012


(written by CHERI MAJORS, adoptive parent of several special needs kids!)
Most of us love our household pets as family members, however many families with special needs children may not welcome the additional responsibilities or potential safety risks to their special child. Worry no more and let the healing begin! I also had the same concerns with my own son who suffered with seizure disorders as a child and has struggled with ADHD. I finally relented and got him the dogs he begged to have for five years and I have witnessed the therapeutic benefits.

Long before I began working with special needs children I had met a unique individual who worked with his own pets, trained "therapy" animals, rotating them among terminally-ill patients at extended-care facilities. His popular services were impressively labeled "animal-assisted therapy.

This innovative service was based on the premise that contact with animals could assist the sick and terminally ill with their healing processes, as there have been documented cases of hospitalized comatose patients mysteriously waking-up to the attentions of visiting therapy animals. As well as providing many elderly with a will to live, animals are also capable of instinctively sensing and compassionately interacting with our special needs children.

Our pets love us unconditionally, without judging by sickness, disorders, symptoms or conditions and inspire us to love and to heal. Our family dog used to sleep beneath my infant son's crib and if he even coughed that dog would come get me, barking until I followed her back into the nursery. Now at thirteen years old my son has two dogs to watch over him and keep him grounded.

We have all seen those amazing news stories where dogs alert their owners prior to a heart attack, stroke or seizure. We are also aware of the valuable services seeing-eye dogs provide for the sight-impaired, while police dogs assist with law enforcement; however dogs aren't the only therapeutic animals ready, willing and able to help heal your special needs child.

If you are not inclined to dog ownership, there have also been accounts of pet pigs, hamsters and cats alerting their owners to dangerous situations or impending health problems. Dolphins and horses, although not practical house pets still receive high marks for engaging youngsters in animal-assisted therapies.

Wikipedia lists therapeutic horseback riding as "equine assisted activity" or "adaptive riding" for special needs children and adults. A Google search reveals many equestrian centers, camps, organizations and scholarships across the country devoted to accommodating your special needs child while they learn to horseback ride.

Research findings have also been positive regarding dolphin assisted therapy or DAT on depression, psychological disorders and medical diseases. For more specific information refer to their official home page for a list of services online at

While living in Maui, Hawaii, I had friends who swam with dolphins in the ocean and claimed it was a life-changing experience. Even a new season of "Kate Plus 8" (a family recovering) highlighted swimming with dolphins to celebrate a 6th birthday at Discovery Cove in Orlando, as part of TLC's summer line-up.

Whether you try swimming with dolphins, horseback riding or a family pet, you will be providing your special needs child with therapeutic animal activities. The research indicates our pets are a natural form of healing therapy for us, as well as our special needs kids.


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