Animal-Assisted Therapy and Autism Essay

Diseases and illnesses these days are being dealt with through numerous ways, and a majority of these techniques are keeping up with the times. Technological advancements are there to provide us with a more convenient life. Problems in health are now managed because new and more effective drugs are being discovered or invented and then being mass-produced. A lot of new surgical techniques are being learned, as more and more health care professionals are being more interested with the profession. It seems that there is no space for challenges and problems in the health care industry anymore expect that the medical practitioners are here to do their jobs right. Little people realize that we still need to go back to the basic. We were able to survive without the use of technology. How can we not survive these times without it? A treatment method that involves animals is evidence that going back to the basic, without the use of lasers and surgical knives, can help people get rid of their health problems. After all, some health problems cannot be dealt with using technology, which is why a therapy like the animal-assisted one is a significant breakthrough.

Animal-assisted therapy, also known as AAT, refers to a type of therapy where animals are a great use. The reason why it is called “animal-assisted” therapy is because an animal is being involved in the treatment process of a person with an illness. Animals chosen for AAT are those with characteristics that are of a great use in the treatment methods. What AAT improves are the different functioning of a patient, especially his emotions, social skills and physical well-being (Chandler, 2005, p.1).

In fact, AAT can also provide motivation and educational effectiveness. It is a flexible type of therapy because it can be done on one person only. It can also be done on groups. The therapists during an AAT session record and evaluate the progress of whoever is undergoing the therapy (Chandler, 2005, p.1).

            The different animals that can be used in any type of AAT are lizards, rabbits, dolphins, birds, elephants, cats and dogs. Mostly, small animals are being used in this type of therapy. When the ATT involves a large animal like a horse, then the therapy is called hippotherapy. Other terms for hippotherapy include equine-assisted personal development, equine-assisted creative living or equine-assisted psychotherapy (Beck and Katcher, 1996, p. 127).

            If you are a person with a pet at home, then you are included in numerous benefits that pets provide. An example of a benefit is the comfort you get from getting in contact with an animal. It can also help you feel happier by decreasing whatever sadness you are feeling. Sometimes, it can help you improve your social skills by giving you instances where you share pet tips to other pet-lovers. That way, you are improving your social interaction skills because of your pet (Chandler, 2005, p.5).

            If you have a pet, it automatically means that you need to spare some time for it every single day. You are taught to adhere to a specific schedule everyday. This way, you learn to be more responsible. You also learn how to properly nurture something or someone as you care for a pet (Beck and Katcher, 1996, p. 127).

            Animal-assisted therapy offers a lot of advantages or benefits to a person who needs it. It can improve different aspects of the physical attributes of a person including sense of balance or equilibrioception, wheelchair skills and fine motor skills. Because of all these, depression is decreased. Even the chances for heart attack, stroke or high blood pressure are also reduced (Chandler, 2005, p.7).

            Of course, AAT can also help a patient mentally. ATT with moderate effect sizes are capable of improving the results in emotional well-being, behavioral problems, medical challenges and autism spectrum symptoms. It does all these by reducing loneliness and anxiety, increasing self-esteem, developing recreation or leisure skills, increasing focus on staying on task or paying attention (or attention skills in general) and improving the verbal interaction between every individual in a particular group (Beck and Katcher, 1996, p. 128).

            AAT also has educational benefits. In this case, the help it provides is not entirely academic, but it can help a patient increase vocabulary, enhance knowledge of colors, sizes and concepts in general, and support the memory of a person, either long term or short term. The therapy also has motivational advantages, which can be seen as the therapy helps a person improve interactions with the members of a specific staff, interaction with other people in general, and the feeling of being willing to be included in any group activity (Beck and Katcher, 1996, p. 128).

            What is interesting about the animal-assisted therapy technique is that it can help patients with autism. If you have a pet at home, it should not be something new to you to know that interacting with you pet is actually very therapeutic. There are healing benefits that you feel exist, although you cannot fully define them yet simply because you are only a pet-lover. The feeling of comfort and ease that you get whenever you are with pets is enough to make you feel that yes, if pets can make you feel that good, then animal-assisted therapy must be effective (Beck and Katcher, 1996, p. 128).

            Animals like your ordinary cat or dog at home can calm you down. It can comfort you whenever you are stressed. It can soothe you everytime you are tired from work. The presence of a beautiful cat or an adorable dog alone is enough to give you comfort. Because of these special qualities of pets, it follows, then, that animals can be used in therapies for autism (Beck and Katcher, 1996, p. 129).

            Jennifer Barol, a graduate student of the New Mexico Highlands University School of Social Work, researched on the impact and benefits of AAT on autistic children. Her study has a simple and understandable title, “The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on a Child with Autism.” For fifteen weeks, the study was being conducted. Jennifer Barol was in search of the pieces of evidence that support the claim that any therapy based on the assistance of animals is capable of improving the social skills of children with autism (Evans, 2008).

            Her study was of interest to a lot of people especially those who are in the medical field. An example would be, Zachary, an autistic child, who underwent animal-assisted therapy with Henry, an Australian cattle dog. Zachary was five years old. He was always challenged and hard up when it comes to communicating with other people. He had the tendencies to throw tantrums everytime he does not get what he wants (Evans, 2008).

            Whenever tantrums attack, he will usually cover his eyes and ears. This act what he does to compensate for his inability to be understandable. He also found it very hard to participate in new activities, while other kids enjoyed it. Playing games was difficult for him, while it was fun for others. In fact, he was never capable of completing a sentence, and had no friends because he was not understood (Evans, 2008).

            In this study, Zachary was given a pet named Henry. Doctors and therapists noticed that the child was undergoing virtual transformation. Because of Henry, Zachary started to be more open about new experiences. He was already willing to join games with other kids. All in all, his self-assurance in general improved a lot. He started to be curious about things. He became interested in things he usually did not really even care about. He started to understand his surroundings and the events happening around him. He was also able to recognize what other people need. The best result during the initial parts of the animal-assisted therapy was that, halfway through it, the autistic child finally formed his first complete sentence (Evans, 2008).

            Animal-assisted therapy was indeed a way to help Zachary and kids like him to be open to new experiences. He was able to understand the things he used to not understand. In fact, mental hospital clinical reports show that children who were given opportunities to bond with animals like cats and dogs were able to learn how to build strong relationships not only with the animals but with other people as well (Evans, 2008).

            Since some kids have violent tendencies, animals have taught them how to be calm. Children with autism who used to be violent were no longer violent when they started interacting with their cats and dogs. Children with autism developed maternal characteristics, too, like interacting with, cleaning up and feeding pets. Kids with autism did not have these qualities before they underwent animal-assisted therapy (Pavlides, 2008, p. 16).

            The good thing about AAT is that even the blood pressures of children with autism are lowered because of the animal treatment. If a child is experiencing headaches more often than not, and if he is insomniac, then animal-assisted therapy is here to ease the symptoms (Pavlides, 2008, p. 16).

            Animals are always effective tools in reducing sadness and feeling of loneliness in children with autism. A base of healthy disposition and character is then being fostered, which is very important when it comes to the development of the character and the general well-being of a child with autism. Personality traits are being improved, like responsibility, self-confidence, commitment, contribution, productiveness, trustworthiness, the ability to trust and respectfulness. All the language and social skills are learned as an autistic child bonds with animals. Animal-assisted therapy is indeed very helpful especially when there are bigger problems that need to be faced. Children will not be children forever. They will become adults, too. Before they even become adults, they will undergo puberty, too. Normal children are already hard up and challenged when it comes to dealing with their own changes and puberty in general (Pavlides, 2008, p. 16). It is no surprise that children with autism will surely be more challenged when it comes to dealing with this stage in life. Animal-assisted therapy will definitely be a stress reliever on times when greater trial is so close a child can almost taste it.


Beck, A. and A. H. Katcher. (1996). Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal

Companionship. Purdue University Press.

Chandler, C. (2005). Animal-Assisted Therapy in Counseling. CRC Press.

Evans, R. (2008). The Benefits of Animal Therapy for Autism. Retrieved November 12, 2008


Pavlides, M. (2008). Animal-Assisted Interventions for Individuals with Autism. Jessica

Kingsley Publishers.