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Prisma Health Children's Hospital–Midlands

7 Richland Medical Park Dr.
Columbia, SC 29203

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Animal-Assisted Therapy

Reducing physical and psychological stress

Research has shown that the presence of a well-trained dog can lessen the physical and psychological stress of children. The first formal work and research into Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) was conducted in 1961 by Dr. Boris Levinson.

By being in close proximity with a calm and gentle dog, a child’s heart rate and blood pressure have been observed to reduce. With a dog by their side, children have been noted to demonstrate less behavioral, emotional and verbal distress when involved in potentially stressful activities.

Animal-assisted therapy

AAT allows for more effective treatment for patients and has been shown to improve therapy outcomes. The therapy has been highly motivational to students and patients in reaching their therapeutic goals including walking, dressing and speaking.

We are excited to offer Animal Assisted Therapy as an option for qualifying patients.

Our animal assistance teams have been trained and certified to provide animal assisted therapy by Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services (PAALS), a local organization. All dogs coming from PAALS are well-groomed, vaccinated and trained to interact with children and adults with special needs. Following two years of structured training, they are selected for their reliability, predictability, controllability and their ability to inspire confidence.

Ways a speech therapist might incorporate AAT into their therapy sessions:

  • The child might list the steps (sequencing) for washing a dog
  • The child might follow directions to interact with the dog (get the ball and give it to the dog)
  • Imitating animal sounds (having the child copy the dog’s sound when the dog barks)
  • Describing (the child may provide attributes/description)

Ways an occupational therapist might use AAT:

  • Providing functional use of the upper body
  • Performing acts of daily living on the dog (such as brushing hair)
  • Providing patients with a way to experience and organize sensory input without being overwhelmed

Ways a physical therapist might utilize AAT:

  • Exercises designed to increase balance and equilibrium
  • Ambulation with assistance for stability
  • As a motivator for ball skills and for retrieval
  • Modeling stair negotiation and allowing increased stability for patient

A physician referral is needed for therapy.

View our animal-assisted therapy brochure (PDF)

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