Animal therapy for autism

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Animal therapy for autism

Animal therapy is probably one of the best treatments to help our kids on the spectrum. Animal therapy actually forms a bridge between the isolated world of our children with autism and the greater social world that they have to be a part of. So often kids come into my office and they are just overwhelmed from their day. It's been so invasive, the noises, the sounds. Automatically my therapy dogs come up to our kids and give them what's called proprioceptive input, deep pressure, hugs. What happens is that actually organizes our kids to calm down, focus and attend. You want to teach social skills? What you need to do is talk to a dog, because you need to have really good eye contact with a dog so they'll listen to you. And you have to learn to enunciate your words carefully to make sure that the dog attends. You want to go ahead and improve occupational therapy skills? Well work on clipping that leash to the collar. And spend a lot of time grooming that dog and using those wonderful hand muscles. Physical therapy, well that's easy. Take the dog for a walk and clean up the poop. Each time that child bonds with the dog, they move forward developmentally, appropriately, socially.

See Esther Hess, PhD's video on Animal therapy for autism...


Expert Bio

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Esther Hess, PhD

Pediatric Psychologist

Dr. Esther Hess is a developmental psychologist. She specializes in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of children with developmental delays, regulatory disorders and language impairment, specifically autism, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not otherwise specified.  In addition, she treats various psychological ailments including, affective disorders, selective mutism, school phobias, attention deficit disorder, non-verbal learning disorders and difficulties as related to childhood response to parental divorce. Her expertise is in the utilization and application of a developmentally based psychotherapy (the DIR model) as devised by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. This model, conceptualized as Floor Time, takes into consideration the various underlying elements that may be impeding the child including where he/she is at developmentally, various biological constraints, and the relationship between the child and the parent. 

In addition to working with the impacted person, Dr. Hess interfaces with the entire family and coordinates the efforts of the various members of team specialists who assist in boosting the impacted individual’s developmental lag.  She is currently one of Dr. Greenspan’s Senior Clinicians on the West Coast, certified in  D.I.R./Floor Time and has trained parents, interventionists and clinicians both nationally and internationally in the developmental/relational method known as Floor Time.  Dr. Hess is the executive director of a multidisciplinary treatment facility in West Los Angeles, Center for the Developing Mind.

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