I have had the pleasure of recently getting to know Barbara Wolf-Dorlester, PhD. Barbara is a therapist with many years of experience working with special needs children as a therapist and reading specialist. Barbara is adding a new wrinkle to her practice, incorporating her own dog, Moxie, into sessions. Henry has spent some time with Moxie lately and it is so refreshing to see him reading with a level of comfort he does not have when the focus is on reading to an adult. No matter how hard we try, it is difficult to not make some comments that, while seemingly innocuous, carry some judgment (even correcting misread words). Moxie delivers a judgment-free audience! Henry wants to make sure Moxie is paying attention (a little projection there???).
For children who are comfortable with dogs, canine therapy opens many doors. Henry loves dogs (having overcome a big fear of them as a toddler) and has embraced reading to Moxie with great enthusiasm. The last time we saw Moxie, he asked Barbara about scheduling a time to come back!
The use of canines in therapy shows great potential. Dogs can be certified to participate in therapy and can serve many functions - they help facilitate social interactions, language production, self-regulation, and relatedness. Their non-judgmental interactions provide a level of comfort to children and relieve some of the stress they may feel in interacting with and meeting the expectations of peers and adults.
On an independent but related note, dogs can also serve a great function as service dogs to children on the spectrum. The NY Times recently featured my friend Claire's family... read about their tremendous experience here.