Animal magic: Animal-assisted interventions at Inscape
Many of us enjoy spending time with animals. But did you know animal interactions can have specific benefits for the children and young people we support?
Inscape House School runs Animal-assisted Intervention (AAI) sessions to improve students' mental, physical, social and emotional functioning.
Learners have weekly sessions with school guinea pigs Pandora and Patch, and Riley the dog. AAI Practitioner Danielle leads the programme, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the animals while delivering enriching AAI sessions to support students’ development.
“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”, says Danielle.
Josh is a post 16 learner. He enjoys feeding the guinea pigs and spending time with them makes him feel ‘calm’.
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”, explains Danielle.
“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”.
Eve works with Danielle on his English work during his AAI sessions, when he is more relaxed. Caring for animals also helps to develop his fine motor skills
There is a strong bond between animals and people. Animals are accepting, non-threatening and non-judgmental, making it easier for people to open up.
Logan, 14, has an AAI session once a week. “I come and see the guinea pigs every Thursday. We’ve got quite the bond”, he said.
“I like caring for another being. It helps you to be more mindful because each species is different. All of them act in certain ways and it’s a good learning experience.
It makes me feel much better just by being around them. It improves my mood so much. [These sessions] are probably the best thing that’s happened to me in the last couple of months.”
Ellis, 13, wants to work with animals when she is older. She spends time at a local farm and attends AAI sessions. “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”, she said.
Students are now looking forward to the arrival of a baby tortoise in the coming weeks. Students will work with Danielle to give it the best care, monitoring its heat, nutrition, and hygiene needs. “I am very excited” says Logan, who will be meeting a tortoise for the first time. We can’t wait to see the photos!