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Speech therapy for children is likely to be much more effective if a dog is present, according to new research carried out in the Czech Republic, which was published in the journal Anthrozoos.
The study was conducted by the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, which compared the responses of 76 children aged between four and seven being treated for developmental dysphasia. Exactly half of them received therapy with a dog present and the other half without.
Researchers observed that those undergoing the programme with a dog present were more likely to respond well to the treatment.
Kristyna Machova, from the Department of Husbandry and Ethology of Animals at the university, told the publication Infectious Diseases in Children: "The presence of the dog improves the relationship with the therapist as it distracts from the fear of therapy in children and provides them with a form of support during the practice."
In the research, she and her colleagues wrote: “Canine-assisted speech therapy has the potential to be an appropriate and complementary method to the conventional approach. It especially shows promise in improving orofacial motricity skills."
Among the improvements witnessed by researchers were a number of positive actions by children treated with dogs present, including filling their cheeks with air, narrowing and shutting their eyes and smiling. All these responses were more common than among those children only undertaking traditional therapy.
In addition, the children receiving animal-aided therapy were more communicative and made more natural gestures and expressions.
The researchers said the use of dogs could be expanded into the treatments of other facial-related impairments. However, they noted, more research is needed to establish how effective it could be in treating children with facial palsy or Parkinson’s disease.
Animal-assisted therapy is becoming increasingly common in helping with speech and learning difficulties among children.
Recent examples of its growth in the UK include the setting up of PAWS in 2016. The Harlow-based organisation includes speech and language support in its range of therapies.
Written by Martin Lambert
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