I already knew about the power of animal assisted therapy as a friend of mine, Frances Weston, uses her Labrador Tilly very successfully in her counselling sessions.
However, I hadn’t really thought about using an animal in speech and language therapy at all. I was working on a channel 4 programme called ‘Born Naughty’, when I was asked to assess a 9 year old called Honey, who was very anxious. She almost totally trashed the library and was basically a whirling dervish of anger, fear and extreme anxiety all wrapped up as awful behaviour! The producer said that we wouldn’t be able to include her as he could get hardly any useable footage from the first session. I, however, had been given a job to do so wanted to complete it. I wanted to know why she was behaving this way, what were her receptive language skills, had she got social communication difficulties and, above all, had been asked to complete my part of an ASD assessment.
I asked him if we could see her again at Sunshine Barn near Ashbourne where Frances has sheep Bertie and Beatrice, chickens, ducks and the gorgeous Tilly, the chocolate Labrador. Tilly greeted Honey, who at once became relaxed, happy and very compliant. We couldn’t believe it was the same child! I realised then that I needed a therapy dog BUT as part of my HCPC registration must only do activities based upon evidence based practice.
I got myself a beautiful chocolate Labrador called Ralph, who the breeder suggested was very bright as he was naughty and into everything; but didn’t really know where to start to use him in therapy when he was old enough.
Fortunately, Frances recommended a course for counsellors run by Kasia Kimberley from Humanima CIC, over 3 days at the exotic zoo in Telford. It was just what I was looking for; it answered all my questions and more. She showed us the evidence base, looked at risk assessments, case studies and practice examples. She also looked at safe-guarding of the animals we use. We also got to play with some of the exotics!
Ralph is 15 months now and has now passed his PAT dog assessment. We have all the necessary paperwork in place and he’s proving to be an asset when working with children with selective mutism and autism. I can’t believe the difference he can make! We use him to reduce the anxiety or even build him into the programme to boost confidence or for a small steps programme. He enjoys, for example, doing obedience tasks for biscuits while they have to talk to give him the necessary commands. We’ve been invited to present a case study at next year’s Selective Mutism Information and Research Association conference.
I would thoroughly recommend Kasia’s course to any coach, counsellor or teacher who wants to work with animal assisted activities or therapies. She has a fantastic knowledge about AAT and is able to readily share in a very easy way.
Consultant Speech and Language Therapist
Small Talk Speech & Language Therapy www.private-speech-therapy.co.uk