“We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”
In the USA the therapeutic benefits of being in contact with animals have long been recognised for young people and adults on the autistic spectrum or with learning difficulties. Recent research in the UK also suggests that the benefits of nature are more pronounced for some people with special needs. I have chosen to use these approaches with my clients because they:
- provide sensory stimulation – sight, sound, touch, smell
- are firmly rooted in the present or ‘here and now’
- are non-judgemental and straightforward
- provide opportunities for social interaction and connection
- encourage the development of new skills, which can be empowering
- offer physical health benefits, including movement, fresh air and light
- provide an escape and opportunity to do something exciting and different
Nature and animals are very much in the here and now and do not judge us. It makes no difference who we are or what we look like and that is particularly helpful for excluded and minority groups who may experience feelings of judgement in busy or crowded environments. I believe that engagement with animals and nature has the power to calm, relax and inspire all of us.I have worked with young people and adults with learning difficulties, Asperger’s Syndrome and other autistic spectrum disorders since 1996, initially as a part-time teacher, then as a care manager for residential and day care units, and more recently as a therapist. I usually work with clients on a one to one basis and the range of my work includes counselling, equine and animal assisted activities and therapy as well as green therapy. I try to integrate these different interventions in a way that acknowledges, respects, and responds to, the needs and abilities of each individual person.
I have worked alongside residential care units run by the National Autistic Society and I am also a member of the NAS. I have attended a wide range of relevant training courses over the years, including PECS, Intensive Interaction with Dr. Dave Hewett and TEACCH training with Dr. Gary Mesibov and I am always trying to improve my knowledge and understanding of clients in order to work more creatively, sensitively and effectively.