Therapy Dogs Enriching Lives at ACES
Therapy Dogs Enriching Lives at ACESMarch 7, 2017,
The unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship felt from a therapy dog can add an element of novelty that enriches a therapy session and bring joy to individuals challenged with autism. ACES is proud of our partnership with the Orange County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OC SPCA). For seven years and going strong, ACES has been a part of their P.A.W.S. (Pets Are Wonderful Support) program.
ACES offers a weekend ABA Program, known as "WABA," for children and teens of all abilities. The program is offered most weekends and participants socialize, engage in meaningful activities, and have new experiences such as visiting a PAWS therapy dog. The OC SPCA and ACES came together with a shared goal of enriching the lives of individuals with autism. All those years ago, ACES could not have anticipated our partnership would reach so many young people in such a profound way but we could not be more pleased. Supervisor Roxy Betancourt says, "When you see the kids walking around the office with the dogs, seeing their smile is very rewarding."
Socialization can be very difficult for a person with autism yet at WABA we create every opportunity to be welcoming, child-friendly, and supportive of attempts at socializing by children and teens with autism. Therapy dogs help create an atmosphere within ACES that promotes learning, engagement, and naturalistic opportunities that may be hard to replicate elsewhere.
Children and teens at WABA interact with the dogs and their owners in a number of ways. Participants can be seen welcoming the dogs, brushing them, learning about their breed, walking them around the ACES office, and so much more. Clinical Quality Manager of Groups Lily Law stated, "We are very fortunate to have the therapy dogs. I feel like every child benefits from them in some way, whether it's to work on their fear of dogs or just having that connection with them when they sit next to them or pet them."
ACES provides this opportunity knowing that not all families who have a child with autism are able to have a pet due to the strain that autism might put on a family. Over the years, countless families have expressed their gratitude to ACES and OC SPCA for giving their son or daughter the opportunity to interact with an animal in a safe, calm and comforting place. The partnership has also allowed families to experience the love of a dog and ask questions of the owners as part of deciding whether or not to get one for their own family.
Not all children or teens are interested in the therapy dogs, at first. Some are even terrified to get near the dogs. ACES behavior interventionists are trained to promote positive behaviors and social skills to navigate challenging behavior that may occur, all while helping the child feel safe and supported during the dog visit. With time, most children and teens at ACES come to love, expect, and know each dog and their owner. As a special touch, the volunteers bring postcards of their dogs for the children and teens to take home with them.
The volunteers from OC SPCA are an incredible addition to our WABA program, and may not even realize the extent to which they create valuable opportunities for our clients. ACES is very grateful to the staff and volunteers for their many wonderful contributions over the years.
ACES is excited to announce we are bringing the therapy dogs to our WABA program in Anaheim. For more information, please contact us today.