Animal-Assisted Therapy (or AAT) is a unique partnership between people and other animals to achieve therapeutic goals. At Whole Family Health, AAT comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes, AAT looks like a child reading to a guinea pig. Sometimes, AAT involves a stethoscope as a group of children compare their heartbeats to those of a dog, or a tendon hammer as the children learn about the similarities of their and the dog’s anatomy by performing the classic “knee-jerk” reflex test on each other. This kind of AAT is particularly useful for children who need to visit the doctor or hospital, as it helps them to understand the equipment and procedures in a familiar, nonthreatening environment.
Our OT department has benefited from the knowledge of Assistance Dogs Australia’s OT, Claire. As a result, we have a resource book for animal-assisted therapy. The book includes a number of AAT activities, the equipment required for them, and the occupational therapy goals achieved through these activities.
We also incorporate AAT into our holiday programs. For example, the children and staff might take an excursion to the local supermarket to purchase some food for the guinea pigs. They incorporate some speech therapy in discussing the shopping list and some occupational therapy while handling money and engaging in social interactions with people at the supermarket. Upon their return, they have further occupational therapy while doing things such as weighing the food before feeding it to the guinea pigs and making sure the guinea pigs have clean water. While watching the guinea pigs eat, we can often incorporate a lesson on sharing and afterwards, the children might feel encouraged to try some of the same vegetables that the guinea pigs enjoyed.
At other times, we are visited by therapy dogs, who are always very sweet with our kids:
Our next AAT mission involves purchasing costumes for our guinea pigs! Did you know that they make penguin costumes and duck costumes for guinea pigs? Dressing the guinea pigs up will give the children an enormous amount to talk about during speech therapy and help them learn to better independently dress themselves.