Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is gaining momentum amongst behavior therapists across America. A publication in the Western Journal of Nursing Research and the Journal of Developmental Disorders recently advocated for the use of animals, specifically canines, in the treatment of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Such disorders include autism, Rett’s, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger’s and other PDD not specifically defined. In using AAT techniques, therapists hope to counter behaviors that cause children to avoid social environments. According to researchers Francois Martin and Jennifer Farnum, animals serve as transitional objects. When a child forms a bond with an animal, it can be transferred and a bond can be formed with a human. Moreover, Atsushi Funahashi of the Journal of Developmental Disorders found that working with animals can illicit positive emotions that are normally inhibited by their learning disabilities. In her study, Funahashi found that pairing a child with a canine can, “change his cognitive and emotional evaluation more positively towards the stimuli surrounding him.” Using animals in therapy sessions teaches a child to successfully integrate signals from differing sensory systems in the brain. Only then can one achieve normal sensory-perceptual functioning, or the ability to recognize and interpret one’s environment. Additionally, further studies observed that children increased their focus on the activity presented before them and were more compliant to the instructions of their therapist (Farnum, Martin). Ultimately, these studies demonstrate that children learning alongside animals increase their ability to attend to the behavior intervention programs put in place by their facilitator. Both studies advocate for the greater use of animal-assisted therapy in behavior intervention with those diagnosed with PDD. At the Learning and Behavioral Center facilitators offer the same animal-assisted therapy. Learners have the opportunity to improve their behavior alongside exotic animals such as tarantulas, iguanas, turtles, and fish.
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