Volunteers and their therapy dogs from Animals Asia’s long running Dr Dog programme spent six weeks working with developmentally disabled children in Hong Kong.
From May 2 to June 13, kids at the Heep Hong Society Fu Cheong Centre were visited every Friday by six therapy dogs as part of a programme designed to help them overcome their fear of animals and develop their social skills.
A total of 34 children with developmental disabilities such as autism and down syndrome attended the sessions where they learnt how to interact with the dogs with confidence and pleasure by walking and playing appropriately with them.
Animal-Assisted Play Therapy (AAPT) is a fairly new area of research but one which has already produced positive results with developmentally challenged children.
Dr Fung Suk Chun Pat, who has worked together with Animals Asia since 2009, received her doctorate qualification for research on the effects of therapy dogs on autistic children.
Her studies concluded that autistic children interacting with therapy dogs show significant increases in their verbal communications compared with those who play with inanimate objects such as dolls.
Dr Fung Suk Chun Pat has previously said:
“AAPT is a valuable intervention for facilitating the social behavior of children with autism. In my doctoral research, the incorporation of a therapy dog in a structured play therapy has been found effective in eliciting the social behavior of the autistic clients. Specifically, AAPT is an effective treatment in eliciting the verbal languages of the autistic children. The therapy dog not only cultivates a positive play environment, but also provides the autistic children with tactile stimulation. The therapy dog is a therapeutic play partner to the autistic children.”
Teachers and parents at Heep Hong Society Fu Cheong Centre were similarly impressed with one parent saying:
“My daughter was afraid of dogs before. However, she isn’t afraid of the dogs now after the visit by the Dr Dogs. She keeps telling me she wants to meet them again.”
Ms Lo, Senior Teacher at the Heep Hong Society Fu Cheong Centre said:
“Some of the students were afraid of dogs and appeared quite shy and passive when invited to greet and touch them during the first and second visits. As time went by, the students started missing the dogs and started eagerly looking forward to meeting and playing with them each Friday.”
Animals Asia’s Dr Dog programmes have seen registered therapy dogs visiting hospitals, homes for the elderly, disabled centres, orphanages and schools across Asia
since 1991 and is estimated to have improved the lives of more than 25,000 people.