Last Friday, I was cleaning in Concord when the client’s two dogs came running up to me. Hysterically, they began jumping on me and barking. I placed my cleaning supplied on the floor and began petting the dogs. As I told them what good dogs they were and pet them, I noticed that one of the dogs had his tail curled up, indicating that he was still stressed.
A thought occurred to me. The only way which a person can understand a dog, is by understanding that dog’s body language. As the dog began to calm down, and wag his tail, I realized that I was recognizing and responding to body language- just not human body language. Of course, petting and interacting with well-behaved animals always brings joy to my heart, so that interaction also made the job more fulfilling for myself as well.
This applies to people on the spectrum, because we don’t understand body language and we miss social cues. Animals could be used to train people on the spectrum to compensate for this deficiency. This is directly in line with Blue-J’s support for immersion in social interactions. The therapy might work something like this: A person on the spectrum could be asked if they like dogs. This is an essential first step, because if the person is excited about the therapy then it will be exponentially more effective and if they have a phobia of dogs, then this method will not work for them. When the individual receiving the therapy went in, the therapist would explain that he would have to communicate with the dog through body language. If the individual’s family was open to the idea (no pet allergies- though hypoallergenic breeds such as the Bichon-Frisé do exist), the family could purchase a dog which had been trained specifically to teach an Autistic person body language and a book detailing the therapy. The main benefit of this is that this way of delivering the therapy is also most likely cheaper and more effective than the out-patient therapy described above for families which have a member that does have an allergy/ dog phobia issue.
This therapy could be used on other groups as well. Veterans who suffer from PTSD often receive therapy involving dogs. Blind people often have a ‘seeing eye’ dog. Inmates and parolees have received therapy involving dogs as well (for example, ‘Pit bulls for parolees’) to teach them empathy and kindness.