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Thursday, 18 July 2024

How caring for animals is supporting children’s mental health

STUDENTS at a specialist school in Cheadle are benefitting from weekly animal therapy sessions to support their learning and wellbeing.

Inscape House School runs Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) sessions to improve students’ mental, physical, social and emotional functioning. The school is delivered by the Together Trust charity and provides a specialist learning environment for autistic students. 

How caring for animals is supporting children’s mental health

AAI Practitioner Danielle leads the programme, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the animals while delivering enriching sessions to support students’ development. 

Danielle said: “It is more than simply spending time with an animal. AAI sessions work towards therapeutic goals. Therapeutic experiences can include walking, brushing, petting and caring for an animal, as well as processing the experience of trying to achieve a given task”.

Because many children and teens enjoy working with animals, animal-assisted interventions can be particularly beneficial for individuals who have difficulty accessing their emotions or expressing themselves in social situations.

 “Many of our autistic students struggle with understanding their emotions. One of our students only knew sad and happy but through working with the animals, he has been able to understand and talk about more complex emotions, such as confusion and anxiety. It really does help them in the areas where they need additional support”

“The AAI sessions also help students progress in other subjects. For example, counting and weighing food can make Maths real to students and that makes it easier for them to engage with it”, said Danielle.

How caring for animals is supporting children’s mental health

Logan, 14, has an AAI session once a week. He said: “I come and see the guinea pigs every Thursday. We’ve got quite the bond. I like caring for another being. It helps you to be more mindful because they’re all different. It makes me feel much better just by being around them. It improves my mood so much.”

Ellis, 13, wants to work with animals when she is older. She spends time at a local farm and attends AAI sessions. She said: “I feel much calmer when with the guinea pigs. I get 10 minutes with them every morning and a session with them on a Tuesday. It’s one of my favourite parts of being at school”.

Students are now looking forward to the arrival of a baby tortoise in the coming weeks. Learners will work with Danielle to care for it, monitoring its heat, nutrition, and hygiene needs.


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