Animal-Assisted Therapies

In Cerebral Palsy, Medical on November 25, 2008 at 10:24 am

Animal-Assisted Therapies For Children With Special Needs:

Dolphins, the friendly mammals

According to wikipedia, animal-assisted therapy is a kind of therapy that involves an animal with special characteristics and it serves as a fundamental part of a person’s treatment. Animal-assisted therapies are designed to improve the physical, emotion, social and/or cognitive functioning of the patient. These therapies also provide educational and motivational effectiveness for the participants.

Many kinds of animals are used in therapies including dogs, cats, elephants, horses and dolphins as well as other small animals. Among them, the most popular methods are those assisted by Dolphins and horses. These forms of therapies, in the context of children with special needs, offer improvements in such areas as physical (Fine motor skills and balance) and also mental (improving self-confidence, verbal skills and attention skills); nevertheless, both may present some physical threats to both people and animals, which may be difficult to overcome. This post; however, will only concentrate on the dolphin therapy.

Dolphin Therapy

Research has shown that dolphins, which have long been known to be human beings’ greatest friends, are considered highly intelligent animals for their larger brain volume than chimpanzees or monkeys. Ancient Rome, who believed that dolphins are symbols of true love, friendship and harmony, named one of the stars constellations as delphinus or dolphin.

Dolphins are capable of swimming at the speed of 40 kph and sending series of ultrasonic signals to detect the existence of things around them. Scientists often utilize the capabilities of these friendly mammals to interact with people as therapeutical aid. These ultrasonic signals are often associated with essential stimuli for the brain-injured people since the signals tend to improve their five senses and or sensory nerves that in the end improve the condition.

Dolphin therapy was developed more than 25 years ago by the American psychologist David E. Nathanson Ph.D, who conducted his first study on the rehabilitative effects of dolphin therapy as early as 1978. A proven method of treatment, dolphin therapy enables special-needs children, including those with cerebral palsy, to interact with their surroundings in a constructive and playful way.

Central to the therapy is the encounter between the child and the dolphin. These mammals are able to recognize the child’s deficiency. This recognition helps the child to forge a connection with the dolphin, resulting in a relaxation and openness to learning and healing that can lead to developmental progress.

Not only does dolphin therapy benefit children with cerebral palsy by boosting their confidence in their own abilities, but it also benefits entire families. Parents, together with any brothers and sisters the child may have, are encouraged to be active participants in the therapeutic process. The participation of whole families in dolphin therapy helps foster a sense of togetherness and cooperation within the family – a fact that further aids in the patient’s progress.

Advocates of dolphin therapy do not claim that it cures diseases like cerebral palsy. However, research has shown that disabled children learn up to four times faster when exploring their surroundings with dolphins. Also, research seems to suggest that the best results are achieved when a child engages in dolphin therapy for at least two weeks.

Swimming with dolphins creates an effect that gives joy and peace of mind, enforces the immune system, improves awareness, attention and self-control and develops feelings of compassion and self-confidence. As the interest and curiosity for the outside world expands, the capacity to benefit from inter-personal relations improves radically.

After the dolphin therapy, disabled children build a capacity to learn faster; in one or two months, they can acquire the knowledge and physical skills that will normally take them a year to learn. Dolphin therapy accelerates the learning process two to ten times the normal rate, and this improvement will be effective from six months up to a year.

A six-year-old autistic child went through the dolphin therapy and received special tutoring and therapies for a year; he got rid of all autistic symptoms and when he came back for the dolphin therapy the following year, no autistic traits were observed.

The following images below are courtesy of

Dolphins as therapeutical aides:

Each morning, the participant with special needs is taken to the pool and is encouraged to swim with the dolphin for thirty minutes. The participant stays in close contact with the dolphin, cuddles and kisses the dolphin; the dolphin sings to the participant and helps him/her swim, carrying the participant who holds on to its fins. A buoyant relationship between the participant and the dolphin is experienced. A feeling of joy and peace dominates the whole affair, which cannot be experienced in any other circumstance. This exercise is always supervised by a dolphin instructor and a sports teacher experienced in tutoring children with special needs.

Swimming with dolphins for half an hour enhances the child’s awareness and curiosity to the outside world. The participant builds his capacity to benefit from inter-personal relations. As a consequence, an acceleration is observed in the learning process of children who are tutored by special instructors, who take speech lessons and who are treated with physical therapy.

After the dolphin therapy, children with special needs learn new information and physical skills in a much shorter time; it takes an average of one or two months to acquire such skills, which initially took six months or a year to learn. Special diving suits are needed to keep the child warm in the pool.

  1. I used to go to the community swimming pool to take my swimming lessons. I must say the trainers there are very professional and friendly.

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