For individuals with autism, animal assisted therapy can help them learn to express empathy and develop social skills. Children and adults with autism often interact more freely with animals than with another human. One study found that school-aged children who interacted with a classroom guinea pig for a couple of months showed improved social skills. Research also shows that animal assisted therapy can help children with pervasive development disorders be more focused.
Hippotherapy is a specific type of physical therapy that assists people with disabilities. This form of therapy can be found in various countries around the world and is usually overseen by a specially trained physiotherapist or occupational therapist. When a horse walks, it stimulates different muscles groups of the rider’s body helping to improve balance and movement. For individuals who are restricted in mobility, riding a horse can provide a sense of freedom. Hippotherapy also encompasses psychological, speech, language and cognitive benefits.
Dogs in court
In the United Kingdom and in Australia, therapy dogs have been trailed in some court facilities to reduce stress for people going through the legal system. Stroking and hugging such dogs can help distract people who are anxiously awaiting a verdict or who are waiting to give evidence. Police, lawyers and other legal representatives in a New South Wales trial reported a reduction in stress levels after spending time with therapy dogs. Courthouse facility dogs are already common in America, Canada and Chile. In Australia, disability assistance dogs are permitted in court under the Discrimination Act 1991 but companion animals are often unrecognised if they have no formal accreditation.
The majority of visits to aged care centres, hospitals, special needs schools and court facilities are undertaken by specially trained volunteers often overseen by a supporting charitable organisation.