How pets help with speech & Language.

Pets teach, enrich and offer a special kind of relationship with those who have them. Studies have shown that 90 percent of all children live with a pet at sometime during their childhood. Pets can help foster emotional, cognitive, social and physical development. Even for adults who have experienced medical or neurological problems animals are also very helpful in enabling them to restore their communication abilities.

Children and adults with speech and/or language delays or medical setbacks often have difficulty initiating verbal interaction. Many shy away from human interaction. Several  folks have difficulty expressing emotions and appreciating another person’s feelings or perspective. Children with language delays may have trouble sharing possessions. Both adults and children have trouble using words, phrases sentences to state their needs.

It is amazing to see how a well trained pet or therapy animal can dramatically help loved ones to be on their way to be willing communicators. Here are few ways in which pets help people with speech and language problems.

1. Pets relieve communicative stress. When children or language disabled adults first interact with an animal successful communication is achieved without words. Connecting and being understood is achieved with just a touch, rub, smile or hug – All communication is non-verbal and intuitive. This is important as the foundation for a new relationship. It can be used to expand and build more complex communication on.

2. Pets are safe, predictable communication partners. With animals an individual can easily learn what makes a mutually rewarding relationship. He or she learns that when he talks to Fido in soft voice and rubs his head he will wag his tail and yelp. He will also see that when he interacts roughly or screams, the dog may stop wagging his tail, lower eyes and usually stay away. Animals generally do not vary in their reactions. With this new awareness speech and language challenged persons can learn human are similar and can easier apply new learning to human relationships.

3. Pets are useful surrogates for learning new language and speech behaviors. It is a well known fact that stutterers do not stutter when talking to animals. This fluent speech experienced with pets can be used to achieve clear speech in other situations. I believe the fluency a stutterer experiences is due to the 2 above mentioned factors of pets relieving communicative stress and being predictable. Other speech or language behaviors may be taught by building upon the bond that is initially created when human and animal meet. For example, a child who seldom speaks would more willingly say “Hi” each time he meets Fido. He has already made a meaningful bond with the animal and is excited for even more. Saying ” Hi” would also be therapeutic goal for an individual who has trouble meeting and speaking to new people following a stroke.  He or she would find it much easier to get the words out as there’s no expected criticism on the quality of his speech. All that’s important is the communication. Individuals can also have opportunities to practice other behaviors – such as making requests (i.e. get the ball), expressing emotions, using descriptive language, reading body language etc.  Animals respond predictably to the human communication – without regard for the quality of speech.

In conclusion, I would say that there are just a few things as enriching as the human-animal bond. Beside contributing to social, cognitive, emotional, and physical growth this type of relationship can be used to both facilitate and restore (lost) speech and language abilities.

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I've been a speech therapist for 18 years now. I've worked with children and adults in a variety of settings and have found the work very fulfilling. I am married and have 3 children. I am also a musician.