Pet therapy helps children with autism -

Pet therapy helps kids with autism

There is a unique employee named Petunia at the University of Louisville's new Autism Center at Kosair Charities.  She reportedly spends a lot of time sleeping on the job. But when she is hard at work, the impact is quite amazing.

10-year-old Logan, both blind and autistic, is one of 15 children trying a new type of therapy at the center.

"He had a rigid routine," said Tara Armstrong, Logan's mom, about his social interaction. "If something was off at all, he has to know exactly what happens from time he gets up to time he goes to bed."

Speech language pathologist Kelly Langan says "autism is really a social interaction disorder. "  It was Kelly who decided to add an assistant to her therapy sessions with the kids.

It took three levels of obedience training, but once Petunia passed the test, she was officially hired to go to work, helping to develop language and social skills for any child interested in what Petunia had to offer.

Kelly admits Petunia naps frequently at work, but she doesn't deny Petunia's effectiveness.

"There's been a lot of research," said Langan, "about how children with Autism around very calm, well-trained animals often tend to open up and are more focused and more attentive."

Logan was grinning and laughing as soon as he met Petunia and Logan's mom was crying.

"Of course," said Armstrong, "his dimples just running from ear to ear."

Beyond facial expressions, Langan said Logan is making more socially appropriate comments.

"He was saying things about Petunia," said Langan. "Saying, 'she's soft,' or 'where's Petunia?' or 'I like to pet her.'"

Logan is also developing conversation skills, using verbs, prepositions and back and forth interaction.

"I think I've always thought that animals have a healing power," said Langan.

And Petunia is proving the research is right on!  She's earning her pay of lots of pets, hugs and treats.

And Logan's mom says the difference in Logan is huge, "Logan is calmer now and that he's wanting to become more independent."

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