Intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDDs) is a broadly used term that can include multiple diagnoses affecting the nervous and sensory systems. These conditions are typically diagnosed early in childhood and present for the entirety of a person’s life. Most often growth, motor-function and a capacity for learning are severely limited.
While there are many beneficial medical treatments for IDDs to keep people healthy, there is still very little research on how to effectively help children and adults from experiencing intense socio-emotional difficulties, like feeling different from their peers or experiencing social rejection and isolation.
One way that people with developmental disabilities can easily feel a strong sense of acceptance is through pet therapy. Interacting with trained animals, often dogs, can help improve physical, social, emotional and cognitive functioning.
In this article we look at the benefits of pet therapy and point you to local resources for finding a support animal or scheduling a visit.
Benefits of Pet Therapy for People with IDDs
We know that interacting with pets makes us feel good. An animal showing love brings everyone joy, but therapy animals also relieve stress and aid in other helpful ways beyond being fun to be around.
Working with a therapy animal:
- Lowers anxiety
- Slows breathing and heart rate
- Relieves emotional stress
- Encourages use of language and social interaction with others
- Relieves physical pain
- Increases self-confidence
- Strengthens trust
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces loneliness
- Builds empathy
Types of Animal Therapy
Therapy dogs (canines) are the most common animal used in therapy services. They are sociable and loving creatures, and can be trained to react to specific situations and emotions that a person is feeling while interacting with the dog.
Horses have similar temperaments to dogs. They are sociable, affectionate, intelligent and are excellent at sensing emotional or physical distress in people. While not a “pet”, horses enjoy being groomed like other household pets which allows children and disabled adults to connect with them on a similar level.
Farm Animal Therapy
Although most farm animals are not as “cuddly” as dogs or approachable as horses, simply being in the presence of relaxed animals is beneficial for children and adults with intellectual and/or developmental disorders. Tending to farm animals can encourage self-care, trust in the environment and communication.
Local Pet Therapy Resources
Midlands Pet Therapy
Midlands Pet Therapy is a local organization which visits hospitals, care homes, and a variety of other facilities in the Omaha, NE and Council Bluffs, IA area. They spend time with children, teens, young adults and seniors.
Healing Heart Therapy Dogs
Based in Crete, NE, Healing Heart Therapy Dogs provides pet therapy visits to a variety of facilities in rural Nebraska and the metro area.
Domesti-Pups is a community non-profit organization in Lincoln, NE. They provide pet therapy in a number of settings and service dogs specializing in balance disorders, mobility assistance, seizure response and medical alerts.