In March 2002, Kyria was asked by an occupational therapist at Loudoun Valley High School (LVHS), Purcellville, VA, to bring her “Social-Therapy Dogs” to school to see if they might help to stimulate or motivate severe disabilities to engage in any sort of physical activities. Within the last 8 weeks of the school year, Kyria’s dogs succeeded in getting one student, who always refused to get out of her wheelchair, to get out of the wheelchair and to walk several hundred feet at a time. The dogs motivated several other students who had not participated to engage in activities with the dogs, even going outside to walk and play ball with them.
Thus began Educational Animal-Assisted Instruction in the Loudoun County Public School System, and the creation of the paws4education Program within the paws4people foundation.
The success of EAAI during the end of the 2001/02 school year, was deemed so overwhelming that over that summer the principals, teachers and therapists obtained permission to conduct a pilot-program at two additional schools during the 2002-03 school year. During the 2002-03 school year, EAAI operated in three schools; LVHS, Round Hill and Mountain View Elementary Schools. During this year methodologies were developed by the LCPS occupational therapist, guidance counselors, and special needs teachers which utilized the dogs “special motivational” capabilities to assist students to accomplish specific IEP (Individual Education Plans) goals and objectives. Special, unique and complex training protocols were also develop to facilitate the dog’s abilities and capabilities to operate within the extremely unique, chaotic and complex environments of the “special needs” classrooms. A “new” type of Assistance Dog was born, the Educational Assistance Dog.
During the succeeding school year 2003/04, the pilot program was expanded to five schools.
Here are a few of the most noteworthy accomplishments that occurred during that time:
A class of five students with Down Syndrome were expected to learn individual words using American Sign Language. By the end of the year, all five could sign seven or more complete sentences about the dogs.
A student with Cerebral Palsy, who initially could not walk more than a few steps without falling, could walk from the back of the school to the front of the school (walking the dog and counter-balancing using the dog’s leash ), without falling. This is because with the dogs present, she would actively and enthusiastically engage in therapies and class activities she previously avoided.
A student with Autism, who was non-verbal at the beginning of the year, began “mimic-speech” concerning activities he wanted to do with the dogs (shortly before the Winter Break). During the final weeks of the school year, he began self-directed speech, by asking specifically for what he wanted to do with the dogs. He only displayed this self-directed speech in the presence of the dogs. The following school year saw this student engage in self-directed speech while participating in classroom activities, while the dogs were present.
In May of 2005, after a presentation to the LCPS School Board explaining the program and reviewing the success of the pilot program, the School Board gave their unanimous approval for the paws4people‘s paws4education Program to continue, and to expand to any LCPS school desiring to have the program.
Educational Assistance Dogs (EADs) are now routinely used in the following educational venues/programs:
As of July 1, 2010, scores of paws4education volunteers, using their certified Educational Assistance Dogs (EAD) work in schools in three states (North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia), 47 different schools, in eight different school districts. These volunteers and their EADs have conducted over 272,200 educational animal-assisted instructional contacts with students during more than 16,700 classroom visits.
The use of a therapy dog during a rehabilitative therapy session can help a patient achieve their goals by providing an interesting adjunct to the completion of often very difficult tasks. Dogs not only provide a distraction from what sometimes can be a difficult and painful activity but they can also elicit the motivation that a therapist cannot always provoke. Some research shows that dogs can be a calming presence and often will positively affect an individual’s mental and physiologic health status. And if a patient has had positive interactions with dogs in their life they will respond favorably to the presence of a dog in a therapy setting.
A dog in a physical and occupational therapy setting could motivate a patient to improve joint range of motion, muscle strength as well as improve functional tasks that would improve the quality of life. The dog can help motivate a patient to lift his head or increase trunk control by strategically placing the dog in a position to encourage these desired outcomes. The dog can also assist with sitting balance, standing balance and walking. A simple leash or a specialized harness can facilitate walking for those having difficulty walking. Functional tasks such as stooping can also be easily incorporated into a session involving a dog as the patient can stoop to pick up a leash or to give a dog some water in a bowl. The use of a dog to improve upper extremity function can make therapy sessions fun. Throwing a ball for the dog to retrieve, brushing or petting the dog, reaching for or carrying /balancing a water bowl are examples that can be incorporated into a therapy session. Fine motor activities could include opening various dog treat containers and using various grasps to manipulate the dog treats with the hands before giving it to the dog.
Verbal and nonverbal communication can be greatly enhanced when a dog is present during a therapy session. The dog’s presence can stimulate social communication skills. Giving the dog commands can be motivating for an individual. Talking to the dog or about the dog can be used during the therapy session to encourage language and articulation goals. When audible communication is not possible augmentative communication can be used to communicate to or about the dog. Also, reading to a dog to practice the sounds that they are working on in speech session is an easily incorporated strategy. Dogs can provide the right motivation to encourage vocalizations.
The use of a dog during a therapy session provides a fun and motivating addition to a therapy session. A therapist can harness the well-documented human–animal bond as a strategy to enhance a therapy session. Patients are often motivated to work harder with a dog and it can make the session more fun and interesting. The use of the dog is limitless and is dependent only on the imagination of the therapist.
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