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Debra Buttram

ABSTRACT: AAT with a 21-month-old child with psychomotor developmental disorder

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IAHAIO 10th International Conference (Glasgow, 6-9 October 2004)

Animal Assisted Therapy with a 21-month-old child affected by severe psychomotor developmental disability and relational isolation
Debra Buttram***, Marcello Galimberti***, L. Cohen** Maria Capello*, - *Centro Assistenza Minori and **Unitŕ Operativa di Neuropsichiatria dell’Infanzia e dell’Adolescenza, Milano, Italy - ***AIUCA, 23842 Bosisio Parini (LC), Italy

K. was placed in a public residential centre for minors at the age of 5 months after being removed from his family due to their severe ineptness for parental duties based on a judicial ruling. Both parents are very limited cognitively and the mother is affected by personality disorders.

Upon entrance in the centre, K. manifested clear deficiency in many areas ranging from emotional and relational to psychomotor skills as compared to what he should normally be able to develop. Notwithstanding a program rich in relational and environmental stimulation plus special psychomotor program, after one and a half years, K. displayed ever more evident signs of isolation with a progressive arrest in psychomotor skills; K. did not walk, did not talk and manifested stereotypical behaviour.

With the belief that a certain rapport might be established with a dog, offering motivation to K., a program of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) involving a specially prepared and evaluated handler-dog team (registered Delta Society® Pet Partners®) was established. The program was elaborated by different professional figures including the centre medical director, child neuropsychiatrist, psychologist, professional educator, psychomotor specialist and a dog handler. During the weekly 50-minute sessions, only the psychomotor specialist, professional educator and Pet partner team were present. The dog handler is an adult male and the dog is a 2 and a half-year-old female Golden-Labrador mix chosen in particular for her adeptness in interacting with K. in a completely spontaneous, free and safe manner.

Some of the results documented in this program are:
- a definite decrease in isolation - participation through eye contact, observation and reaction to the environment;
- more relaxed and varied facial expressions, less sullen and gloomy;
- a relational openness initially manifested through seeking contact with the dog and eventually transferred towards the adults present;
- an important conscious use of his body in exploring the environment and the passage from poor, non-functional movement to more evolved motor ability - from a sitting position, K. moved to crawling and eventually walking upright.

We believe that interaction with the dog, particularly stimulation through body contact, offered K. profound sensations and emotions that reactivated his interest in the outside world. For a child of this developmental level, an animal is somewhere between object and human being and therefore often considered as an “animated object”, allowing a gradual evolution of sentimental and emotional investment which can eventually be transferred from animal to humans.

AAT programs are being started with other children in the centre.


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