Pets and Pediatrics
Taking Therapy to a New Level
Leslie J. Hammond M.S. CCC-SLP &
Stephanie Ledbetter OTR/L, MOT
Therapy Zone, llc and their therapists have been meeting the needs of pediatric clients, in Northern Mississippi and surrounding areas since 1999. We currently help provide Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT), Speech Language Therapy (ST), and Special Instruction (SI) to First Steps Early Intervention children in three of the nine districts in Mississippi. We just recently added a valuable team member, Peyton, our “Therapup”. Therapy dogs are used by therapists throughout the world to help pediatric patients feel more at ease during treatment. Research has been done showing the benefits it has for children in therapy with Autism and other types of developmental delays.
Peyton is a male morkie (maltese/yorkie). Peyton is currently in training to be an Animal Assisted Therapy Dog, a Diabetic Alert Dog, and a Canine Good Citizen. He is working with his trainer towards these certifications. Kramer Morgan, who is affiliated with Dream Dogz, trains Peyton weekly to help him meet his therapy goals and certifications.
Peyton has become a very beneficial part of the Therapy Zone team. Peyton’s owner, Stephanie Ledbetter, is an occupational therapist who uses him to assist her in her therapy sessions. Peyton not only helps Stephanie and the other Therapy Zone therapists with our early intervention children but with the students we serve in the area schools and our clinic clients. Our occupational, physical, and speech therapists enjoy using him in therapy when he is at the clinic. Our parents and clients also love the positive affect Peyton is having with therapy. Peyton’s presence motivates and encourages children to participate in the treatment process.
Since most children with sensory integration issues, also know as, sensory processing deficit, have tactile defensiveness, using Peyton in their treatment helps lay the foundation for successful treatment. Peyton has helped motivate children who have sensory dysfunctions, such as tactile defensiveness, by allowing them to feel his furry coat. In order to transition children to feel his furry coat, he typically wears a t-shirt. Children are less fearful to touch him because they easily identify with what a t-shirt feels like. Any type of familiar texture, like that of a t-shirt helps them. It is exciting to watch their progress as they then touch his soft fur. They too become excited about the progress they have made.
Some children with sensory processing impairments may also exhibit oral defensiveness and food aversion. They have difficulty tolerating different types of food textures. Typically, when a child exhibits oral defensiveness, treatment is started with hand and arm work. As a child learns how to tolerate different textures on their hands, they begin to tolerate more in their oral cavity. Using a therapy dog in conjunction with this treatment is very beneficial. Peyton’s size makes it easier for a child to pet him. Peyton enjoys getting a treat for working hard and allowing the child to give him the treat aids the therapist in this type of therapy too. Not only will the child be learn to help feed himself by picking up a variety of food, but will begin tasting and chewing those same food types.
Peyton has also helped decrease social anxieties in children with Aspergers. One characteristic of Aspergers and Autism is poor eye contact. Using Peyton with children with this diagnosis has allowed them to increase their ease of making eye contact with other individuals. Children who normally will not look someone in the eye are now making eye contact with Peyton. It is exciting to watch a child make such an important step in therapy. When eye contact is increasing, their social anxiety is decreasing when talking with other people. For children that are non verbal or just beginning to say words, we have seen Peyton’s presence in treatment encourage the child to say more sounds and words. The first time Stephanie brought Peyton to a school, she saw vast improvement from a child who is non-verbal. She had been working with this child on sitting down at
the table to scribble. When she brought Peyton over to this child he automatically said “puppy”. Stephanie was thrilled with the improvement she saw just from Peyton’s presence. After interacting with Peyton, this child immediately went to his table and began to scribble on a piece of paper. What an example of therapy at a higher level.
Children with developmental delays, neurological disorders, and/or syndromes such as Cerebral Palsy or Downs Syndrome may have impaired body schematics. Peyton is learning to help children who have difficulty with body schematics by helping them identify the left from the right side of their body.
Peyton enjoys working with all of the children. He has brought so much joy to the children he works each day. He enjoys being a part of the Therapy Zone team. Stephanie is excited about how he has expanded her practice as an occupational therapist. She and Peyton are “Taking Therapy with Pediatrics to a new level”.
To learn more about how animals assist in therapy you can refer to the article “The Potential Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy For Children with Special Needs” written by Dawn Oakley OTR/L and Gail Bardin OTR/L. This can be found on the web at www.kidsneeds.com/diagnostic_categories/articles/animalassistedtherapy.htm
For more information, contact Stephanie Ledbetter or Leslie J. Hammond at Therapy Zone, llc, where “Life is Made Easy”, 662-349-2733