Monday, 18 August 2014

Using animals in speech therapy: Small Talk's latest team member

Small Talk Speech and Language therapy have a new team member: 10 week old Labrador puppy called Ralph. We are the first speech therapy team in the country to want to utilise the power of animal assisted therapy. It will be a while before Ralph can be let loose on the children with speech, language and communication issues, so in the meantime we are helped out by local counsellor Frances Weston and her therapy dog, Tilly. Frances was based in Uttoxeter but now operates out of Sunshine Barn in Ashbourne. She has successfully been using animal assisted therapy as part of her work for a number of years.

It's well-known (and scientifically proven) that interaction with a gentle, friendly pet has significant benefits including physical and mental health and even encouraging children’s reading*.

Many of the children with whom we work, have severe anxiety which gets in the way of being able to assess their needs properly.  The team specialise in working with children with autism and those with selective mutism.

We decided to get our own dog after successful collaboration with Frances and Tilly. One example was a child who had severe behaviour problems, which were characterised by anxiety and a need to feel in control. The first session had been in a children’s centre but had been very difficult as the little girl, aged 9, had literally trashed the place, kicked, screamed, yelled abuse and it had generally been very stressful for all concerned. It’s very sad to see a child in that sort of state and we need to see the behaviour as panic attacks rather than ’naughty behaviour’. I needed to both assess her communication skills and be able to do my part to contribute to a potential diagnosis of autism. I knew immediately that we needed to enlist Frances and Tilly’s help, so the next session was held at Sunshine Barn where there are lots of animals such as Bertie and Beatrice the sheep, Steve the cat, ducks, chickens and lambs.

Tilly is a mature, sensible dog with years of experience of working with children and adults. Just having Tilly in the session made an amazing difference so I was able to do what I needed, the little girl was happy and relaxed and her mother was delighted. It meant that we could identify her needs properly. We were able to diagnose her with pathological demand avoidance, which is a type of autism’.

Small Talk and Frances Weston have also worked together with children with Selective Mutism, which is a phobia of talking and can be seen as a social anxiety disorder which affects many children. It can be very debilitating and affects the whole family. Having a dog in the session can be a first step in encouraging the child to talk.

Ralph will need to be properly trained so he can be recognised as a therapy dog and I am on a training course too so we can work together.  
for more information: 

Libby Hill 0844 704 5888 or 07792 906741 www.private-speech-therapy.co.uk
Frances Weston 01335 300996 www.brighterfuturespersonalgrowth.co.uk/
        

 Extra info
Physical Health:
·         lowers blood pressure
·         improves cardiovascular health
·         releases endorphins (oxytocin) that have a calming effect
·         diminishes overall physical pain
·         the act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, reducing the amount of medication some people need
Mental Health:
·         lifts spirits and lessens depression
·         decreases feelings of isolation and alienation
·         encourages communication
·         provides comfort
·         increases socialization
·         reduces boredom
·         lowers anxiety
·         helps children overcome speech and emotional disorders
·         creates motivation for the client to recover faster
·         reduces loneliness
 Reading:  
·         helps children focus better
·         improves literacy skills
·         provides non-stressful, non-judgmental environment
·         increases self-confidence, reduces self-consciousness


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