The Help Group is pleased to announce the launch of Paws and Pals for Kids with Autism, a volunteer-supported pet intervention program offered at its Sherman Oaks and Culver City Campuses. Volunteers from Therapy Dogs, Inc. and Autism Service Dogs of America visit The Help Group’s autism schools on a weekly basis with their specially trained and registered therapy and service dogs.
Students attending The Help Group autism schools and camps last summer were the first to be greeted by volunteer Vicky Marsh and her dachshund Clyde. Volunteers like Vicky are placed in a variety of small group settings, including classrooms and day camps, where they have the opportunity to facilitate interaction between their pets and the students. Vicky shared, “It was such a rewarding experience spending time with the amazing children and staff. The kids are happy and enthusiastic and greeted Clyde and me with warm smiles and happy hearts. The Help Group is a special place.”
“Animals can have a very positive impact and present an avenue for social interaction and communication,” said Dr. Barbara Firestone. “The Help Group is thrilled to offer this dynamic new program.”
Students show increased motivation in the presence of handler-and-dog teams, which can be a valuable tool for teachers to help students initiate conversation; share in reciprocal exchange, and social interaction with peers. Students from Village Glen School practiced reading and letter writing using the visiting dogs as the topic. Non-verbal students in Sunrise School are using their Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to communicate about the dogs in their classrooms.
Although some children may find it difficult to relate to and communicate with their peers, relating to animals can be a natural, soothing and non-judgmental experience. “Handler-and-dog teams can encourage social interaction and boost our students’ self-esteem and confidence,” said Pamela Clark, Director of The Help Group Autism Schools. “Pet intervention programs can also lead to increased motivation and decreased anxiety in our students.”
Paws and Pals teams have already integrated into classrooms to achieve these educational objectives and to help students develop skills that can ultimately be transferred to relationships with peers and teachers.
A very special thanks to the remarkable Paws and Pals volunteers for sharing their pets with our students and to Lisa Manafian, Help Group Special Projects Coordinator, for her efforts in developing this program. Paws and Pals is off to a great start!
Note: This article appears in the Winter 2013 edition of HelpLine. Follow this link to download the newsletter.