How Animals Can Help Improve Speech
Having something soft, warm, and loving to interact with has long been viewed as medically beneficial. There are many ways animals can be used to help children improve their speech capabilities within therapy sessions and at home.
Animals tend to evoke happy feelings from patients. Therapists can use pictures of animals and ask children to identify the animals or qualities of the animals or encourage the child to make the sounds of various animals. Animals can be placed into categories or be used for role playing and imaginative play activities to further develop language and communication skills.
Animals can be used in a speech therapy session as well. They are often used in nursing homes and long-term care facilities because of the feeling of familiarity patients often have towards animals that they have difficulty establishing with new people. Patients are encouraged to greet the animals as they are brought into the rooms and then are asked questions about the animal in order to encourage functional language.
Establishments that utilize therapy animals for a variety of conditions, including autism, depression, stuttering, and ADHD have also experienced substantial success. Horses, dolphins, dogs, cats, and even goats have been used to support speech therapy goals.
Even animals that have no therapeutic training can be beneficial in the development of speech abilities. Children with autism who have a dog have shown improvements in their social skills, including speech. In part, this appears to be because it gives the child an opportunity to bond with the animal and makes them more likely to engage with it both verbally and nonverbally. It also gives the child and other family members a common object of interest they can discuss and interact with together.
While not as extensively studied, other animals that a child feels an affinity for can function in much the same way. Family members and friends can use any pet the child enjoys as an opportunity to engage meaningfully with the child and encourage him or her to verbalize more frequently.
While not every patient will respond favorably to animals, a remarkable number do have a positive response to the inclusion of animals in their therapy routine. Therapists who have found it difficult to engage a specific patient in therapy may find it beneficial to investigate the inclusion of animals in order to facilitate greater interaction with the patient.