Some Pig! Some Impact! Buttercup!

Some pig! I remember when my husband called me and asked, “are you sure you want this little guy? He looks a bit, well, ugly and uptight.” Taking a look at the picture myself I had no choice but to agree. You see, Buttercup was living in Texas, all we had to go on was his picture and the breeder’s reputation. We decided to go ahead and get him in spite of his homely appearance.

He came to use one April evening via the San Francisco airport; there were many people at the special baggage claim area collecting their dogs and cats. We were there, but not for a dog or cat. We were picking up our new family member, Buttercup.

Everyone there was happy to see their four legged friends, but they were also intrigued by the itty-bitty crate, and what was in it, “a guinea pig!” said a man “A pig!” replied his wife “That small?” wondered a group of people. I should have known then, Buttercup would make an impact wherever he went.

That was 4 years ago! Today, he’s an accomplished therapy animal, certified by the Delta Society. He’s on Facebook, where he has many friends and fans. He has been on KQED’s “Bay Area People” with Rosie Chu. You can see that video here. His latest appearance is in November’s edition of Reader’s Digest. No student has forgotten, or stopped talking about Buttercup. That’s impressive coming from a child who before Buttercup would not talk or socialize with anyone. There is no denying the fact; he makes a long lasting impact wherever he goes.

Despite his fame and busy schedule, he always makes time for his family. He sits with us to watch a movie, so long as we can scratch him and watch at the same time. He sometimes sits at my feet and keeps me company while I’m typing away on the computer. During the winter, he loves to sit with us in front of the fireplace.

Buttercup is our friend, our pet and our co-worker, but most important of all he’s a family member. Judging by the amount of time he spends with us, he digs us too, after all the choice of going outdoors or staying inside is totally his.

The human animal bond can be traced back thousands of years. This bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship.

Working together with your animal friend to make a difference in someone’s life can be a very rewarding experience.

If you would like to know more about Animal Assisted Therapy or explore if this is something you would like to do, consider taking my AAT course. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

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Discover Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)

AAT Course Book Cover

In Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) the human-animal bond is utilized to help meet therapeutic goals and reach individuals who are otherwise difficult to engage in verbal therapies.

AAT is considered an emerging therapy at this time, and more research is needed to determine the effects and confirm the benefits. Nevertheless, there is a growing body of research and case studies that illustrate the considerable therapeutic potential of using animals in therapy.

AAT has been associated with improving outcomes in four areas: autism-spectrum symptoms, medical difficulties, behavioral problems, and emotional well-being.

So, you decide you want to give AAT a try. Picking an animal companion to help you in a therapy session is the easy part. Effectively using your furry friend as a key player in the therapy environment can be a little more complex.

This course is designed to provide therapists, educators, and caregivers with the information and techniques needed to begin using the human-animal bond successfully to meet individual therapeutic goals.

After completing this course you will have covered 6 key areas:

  1. Identify the key features of AAT
  2. Name three examples of how to build communication skills using AAT
  3. Identify special considerations for working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders
  4. List uses for AAT in occupational therapy and mental health practice
  5. Identify situations where AAT may not be appropriate
  6. List five ways to minimize risk in the practice of AAT

HealthCare professionals earn 2-CE credits or 0.2 CEUs

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Is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) For Me?

AAT Course Book Cover

In Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) the human-animal bond is utilized to help meet therapeutic goals and reach individuals who are otherwise difficult to engage in verbal therapies.

AAT is considered an emerging therapy at this time, and more research is needed to determine the effects and confirm the benefits. Nevertheless, there is a growing body of research and case studies that illustrate the considerable therapeutic potential of using animals in therapy.

AAT has been associated with improving outcomes in four areas: autism-spectrum symptoms, medical difficulties, behavioral problems, and emotional well-being.

So, you decide you want to give AAT a try. Picking an animal companion to help you in a therapy session is the easy part. Effectively using your furry friend as a key player in the therapy environment can be a little more complex.

This course is designed to provide therapists, educators, and caregivers with the information and techniques needed to begin using the human-animal bond successfully to meet individual therapeutic goals.

After completing this course you will have covered 6 key areas:

  1. Identify the key features of AAT
  2. Name three examples of how to build communication skills using AAT
  3. Identify special considerations for working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders
  4. List uses for AAT in occupational therapy and mental health practice
  5. Identify situations where AAT may not be appropriate
  6. List five ways to minimize risk in the practice of AAT

HealthCare professionals earn 2-CE credits or 0.2 CEUs

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Animal Assisted Therapy for Autism – An Interview on KTVU

Taking Advantage of The Natural Human-Animal Bond

Animal-Assisted Therapy takes place when an animal becomes a fundamental part of a person’s treatment or therapy session. Today trained therapy animals are increasingly being used to interact with children on the autism spectrum.

Children with autism have varying degrees of difficulty with social, communication and emotional skills. Often, therapy animals are a bridge between child and therapist by taking the pressure off the child allowing them to relax helping them to focus on therapeutic goals. The results are almost always favorable, especially when more traditional forms of therapy have fallen short.

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Animal Assisted Therapy – with Buttercup

“One of the most fundamental advantages of animal assisted therapy over other therapeutic modalities is that it provides the patient a much-needed opportunity to give affection as well as receive it. It is this reciprocity – rare among medical therapies – that makes AAT a unique, and valuable route to healing”

-Dr. Andrew Weil

The human animal bond is a mutually beneficial one; each influences the psychological and the physiological state of the other.

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is one of the many way animals help people. In this environment animals aid in promoting health, hope and healing. For children with special needs, interacting with an animal, whether a dog, cat, pig or any other furry friend can have a positive impact not only in a therapy session but in their quality of life as well.

Buttercup is my 2-year-old potbelly pig. He plays an important part in many of my therapy sessions. He has been a motivator in the therapy environment, because of this my clients stay on task, initiate and maintain communication – making goals attainable in a shorter time.

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Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)

“Buttercup” A Speech Therapist’s Best Friend

Lois and Buttercup

The overall objective of speech-language pathology services is to optimize individuals’ ability to communicate and swallow, thereby improving quality of life, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).1

In grad school we were taught to use flashcards, pictures, board games and workbooks to meet this objective. More recently, speech-language pathologists have been successfully utilizing computer-based techniques to meet communication goals.

Although all of these are useful modes of learning, none is as motivating and enriching as an animal. Therapy animals interact with students unconditionally, without words, and in a straightforward way, creating an atmosphere that motivates them to expand their skills and strengthens their determination to persevere in spite of obstacles and frustrations.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a useful modality that can be incorporated easily into the therapy session. When used in learning environments, animals invoke trust, empathy and attachment and facilitate relationship-building between the patient and therapist.

Buttercup, a 2-year-old Vietnamese potbelly pig, is a certified AAT animal. Potbelly pigs are clean, loving, and the fourth smartest animals in the world. Buttercup began socializing and visiting schools at 12 weeks old, playing and showing his tricks to students in different grade levels. Today, Buttercup works with both children and adults.

Regardless of their age or ability, all patients look forward to and benefit from his visits. When Buttercup is present, students sit quietly, share, wait their turn, and interact with peers and teachers. Inappropriate behaviors dramatically decrease when he visits. Students learn to be responsible and take care of his needs for food, drink, walk, rest and toileting. In turn, they become more aware of their own necessities.

Nonverbal students construct sentence strips, picture exchange, sign or gestures to choose an activity to do with Buttercup. Many will do their best at verbalizations in an attempt to greet or interact with him. A therapy session that involves Buttercup leads to an increase in verbalizations, communicative initiations and eye contact.

Students with emerging language skills talk to Buttercup more readily than they will to a therapist. They ask him questions like,” What would you like for lunch?” “How was your day?” or “Would you like to be brushed?” Language goals are enhanced in his presence. Vocabulary, concepts and descriptors can be targeted in a fun, hands-on approach.

Students teach Buttercup tricks, read books to him, and review vocabulary and spelling when encouraged. They become his teacher. A student who uses language only to make requests initiated his first conversational exchange with Buttercup.

Students who have very little social exchanges with the general school population are besieged with friends and questions when they walk Buttercup through the hallway. A young man who had extreme challenges talking to girls took Buttercup for a walk and was soon surrounded by them. He had no choice but to interact and made two good friends that day.

Occupational therapists use Buttercup for sensory integration and fine motor coordination. Who does not want to pet, rub and brush him?
Potbelly pigs are perfect animals to take to therapy sessions. They are small, calm, sensory-rich, oil-free and sturdy.

While dogs are usually excellent therapy animals, some children run from the room, hold their ears, turn away, or throw a tantrum when they see one. A pig is a new experience, and students want to touch him right away. Their prickly hair makes petting them a pleasure. Many students ask for Buttercup whenever they get a chance. When this type of request comes from a child who has never spoken a full sentence, it’s cause for excitement.

Why the name Buttercup? There’s no better way to make a quick assessment and have students practice articulation skills.

Diadochokinetic rate is an assessment tool that measures how quickly an individual can produce a series of rapid, alternating sounds with accuracy. These sounds may be one syllable such as “puh,” two or three syllables such as “puh-tuh-kuh,” or familiar words such as “patty cake” or “Buttercup.” Therefore, simply using his name is both an assessment and therapy.

A growing number of therapists and organizations have been breaking the barrier and making a connection through the use of AAT. Animals can help bridge the gaps in communication, social and life skills among students, particularly those who are not receptive to traditional therapy techniques.

Animals can enrich our lives beyond measure, but they are a serious responsibility. Therapists should educate themselves about the animals they choose and have realistic expectations. Be prepared to meet their needs, and give yourself time to bond.

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