I've seen a lot of talk of late concerning "Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT)" for kids with autism and other neurological conditions. Don't believe the hype that you hear about this "therapy." While it may be fun, your therapy dollars would be better spent elsewhere.
We do the horse therapy for our daughter and she loves it. I don't know about the therapeutic value, but it's a great activity. Horse "therapy", or Equine Assisted Therapy (aka - Hippotherapy) does not involve the level of danger associated with dolphin therapy and also does NOT endanger the animal. There is a big difference.
Other types of "Animal Assisted Therapy" (AAT) include, but are not limited to dogs, cats, elephants, birds, rabbits, lizards and (I kid you not) Rats. I am not knocking Rat Assisted Therapy (RAT), and the thought of it almost makes the dolphin telepathy folks seem sane. :-)
I think animals are good for kids with autism, but before you spend thousands of dollars, go rescue a dog or cat at Petfinder.com or your local pound.
The folks who push dolphin therapy often promote it as a "healing" experience and often imply that there is some magical telepathic link created between the child and the dolphin. Several even claim that the brains of kids with autism work along the same lines as the dolphins.
Originating in 1978 by Dr. David Nathanson, Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) has been used as a therapeutic approach to increase speech and motor skills in patients who have been diagnosed with developmental, physical, and/or emotional disabilities, such as mental retardation, Down syndrome, and autism. It is suggested that the unconditional love and support a dolphin offers can benefit children and other mentally ill patients by helping them learn to develop trust. Many believe that dolphins have human-like emotions and the compassion that they're able to give increases self-confidence, social skills and academic achievement in children and others who may be lacking these skills. *
Lose / Lose
In reality, DAT is a lose/lose situation for the child and the dolphin. Parents spent literally thousands of dollars on this treatment that could have been better spent elsewhere. In addition to the financial strain, the kids and the dolphins are put at a great risk of injury or infection. Often these dolphins have been taken out of the wild via a process that often results in death or injury to other dolphins.
As Swim With The Dolphin (SWTD) programs and Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) continue to gain popularity, we're seeing more and more dolphins being held in captivity than ever before. *
Dolphins that become desensitized towards humans are also highly at risk of getting entangled in commercial fishing nets or being hit by boat propellers.
Dolphins are bred in captivity in U.S. marine parks, but in other countries they are often taken from the wild. "If people knew how these animals were captured, I don't think they would want to swim with them in a tank or participate in DAT," Marino says, referring to an annual "dolphin drive" in Japan. "During the dolphin drives hundreds of animals are killed, or panicked and die of heart attacks, in water that's red with their blood, while trainers from facilities around the world pick out young animals for their marine parks. They hoist them out of the water, sometimes by their tail flukes, and take them away."
Each live dolphin can bring a fisherman $50,000 or more, she says. "The marine parks make millions off of dolphins, so that's a drop in the bucket. It's an irony that dolphins are among the most beloved, and the most exploited, animals in the world," Marino says.
Putting your child in contact with a wild animal is dangerous. Yes, dolphins are cute and evolution gave them the appearance of smiling, but they are not like "Flipper." While we hate to think of them as such, but by their nature, dolphins are very aggressive predators. I saw one comment on this topic that probably sums up why people don't think they are dangerous: "They are too adorable to be dangerous!"
In contact with humans, dolphins have been known to bite and exhibit "sexually aggressive" behavior. In addition to biting, dolphins have head-butted, raked their teeth along limbs, cracked ribs, broken arms, bruised, and dragged people under water. One man in Brazil was killed when he apparently stuck something in the creature's blowhole, something I am fairly certain my daughter would want to try within the first minute of "therapy". The following story concerns a bottlenose dolphin, the same species as our old friend Flipper.
In March 1994, a bottlenose dolphin that the locals came to call Tiao began appearing on the beach near Sao Paulo. Tiao did not seem to be associated with any nearby group and was obviously attracted to humans. Such animals, often called ambassador dolphins, are rare. No one knows why they prefer to associate with humans rather than their own kind. But the attraction was mutual. According to the BBC's magazine Wildlife, "At times, Tiao would be surrounded by up to 30 people, climbing on his back, tying things to his flippers, sticking things into his blowhole, hitting him with sticks, even trying to drag him out of the water to be photographed with the family and kids on the beach." In December, after nine months of this, Tiao rammed one man to death and injured several others. *
I highly recommend you watch the Penn and Teller show Bulls*&^ on Dolphins. Part II of this episode mentions DAT for kids with special needs. WARNING: Graphic Language, Don't watch if you are easily offended. If you are not easily offended, you are in for a hilarious treat.
Related articles on both side of the Dolphin Therapy issue:
- Call for Ban on Dolphin Assisted Therapy
- Dolphin Assisted Therapy Does Not Aid Recovery
- Miracles Of Dolphin Assisted Therapy Research
- A contribution to the science of Dolphin-Assisted Therapy
- Is Dolphin Assisted Therapy Research The Answer?
- Dolphin Therapy For Autistic Children
- Controversial Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT): A Note from Ann Novek
- The Promise Of Dolphin -Assisted Therapy
- Dolphins and People...
- Dolphin Assisted Therapy
- Swimming With Dolphins May Not Have Any Health Benefit
- Dolphin Experience 2008
- Swimming With Dolphins An Aquatic Adventure
- Dolphins and Kids
- Something's Fishy
- Does dolphin-assisted therapy really work?
- Swimming With Dolphins Doesn't Confer Any Benefits
- Dolphin Disappointments
- Healing yourself in the new earth
- Dolphin Assisted Therapy
- Dobbs defends dolphins rights to interact with people.
- Dolphin Therapy Smells Fishy
- Dolphin way of life