My friend Ananya’s daughter was having problems learning simple things like colours or shapes. She found it difficult to assimilate sentences even at the age of three years. She had been diagnosed as a child with special needs. The term special needs covers a broad spectrum of issues – some medical and some related with personal-societal behaviour.
HOW PETS HELP CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Over the years research has shown that keeping a pet is a wonderful therapy. Of course, this does not eliminate the need for appropriate treatment. But a pet definitely speeds up the process of recovery. The benefits of owning pets include:
Bonding – Pets invoke feelings of empathy and affection towards humans and other creatures. Children learn from and respond to a pet’s affection.
Stress Relief – Many special needs children feel frustrated that they are not able to do things just like others; which leads to stress and depression. The presence of a pet gives them a sense of purpose, commitment and directs their minds away from their own problems.
Social behaviour – Playing with pets encourages interaction with other beings, both animals and humans. It is far better than playing with inanimate toys.
Overall health – Having a pet helps a child with special needs to relax and enjoy various activities involving the care of the pet. This improves the overall physical and emotional health of the child.
Learning – Various studies have proved that owning a pet has helped a child to develop motor skills, grasping power, concentration and memory. As time passes the child is more receptive to instruction.
WHAT FACTORS SHOULD YOU CONSIDER BEFORE CHOOSING A PET?
It is very important to select the right pet for your child. Both lifestyle issues as well as the actual medical condition of the child should be considered. Some of the factors that would affect your choice of a pet are:
- Space: If you are living in an apartment then a small pet is more convenient, like a hamster or rabbit. An independent house with a garden is ideal environment for child-dog interaction.
- Pet Allergies: Some children are allergic to cat or dog fur. In such a case a lovely aquarium with colourful fish might be a better choice.
- Time: The initial phase of toilet-training a pet is a difficult one. Unlike cats, dogs need to be bathed at regular intervals. Do you have time to teach your child how to care for the pet?
- Reciprocation: Pets like fish invoke a feeling of placidity and do not overtly react to human gestures. Dogs tend to be frisky and playful and very responsive. The choice would depend on whether your child is found of handling pets.
- Medical condition: Some children show adverse reactions to loud noises and sudden movements. A barking dog or a shrieking bird could upset the child. In such a case a more docile and silent pet like a rabbit is more suitable.
More than anything else, children with special needs require their family’s love, patience and persistence. They sometimes find it difficult to cope with even simple day-to-day tasks. A lot of TLC and a suitable pet will surely help the child to develop motor skills, learning and social behaviour.