Enriching and Fun Therapies for Kids with Special Needs

Enriching and Fun Therapies for Kids with Special Needs

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Works of Art

Although it often happens anyway, the aim of art therapy is not to produce beautiful artwork, but to promote healthy self-expression and build life skills while addressing needs of that particular individual.

Diane Fleisch Hughes, art therapist, works with the Fine Arts Association to provide one-on-one sessions that promote mental and emotional growth through art-making.

Art therapy has physical benefits, too, she says, adding that motor skills are enhanced by kneading clay, drawing with pencils, holding paintbrushes, or even learning to use an alternate way of drawing or painting when traditional methods won’t work.

From a social standpoint, art facilitates in forming peer connections while providing a safe setting to foster  cooperation, sharing and taking turns. Art can be used as a pathway for providing emotional care by helping a child visualize emotions and express difficult feelings while honing coping skills, reducing anxiety and improving self-esteem.

Animal Assistance

The greater Cleveland area abounds with equine-assisted therapy. This therapy has the ability to assist across a wide spectrum of special needs. Assessing each child individually helps providers devise meaningful treatment plans, which can be used to optimize lessons that improve physical and emotional well-being.

In addition to adapting animals with assistive equipment as needed, such as wheelchair-compatible carts, special care is made when selecting the ideal horse, giving consideration to its temperament, gait and size. Some facilities even offer hypoallergenic horses for children with allergies that may otherwise prevent participation.

For example, Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Chagrin Falls offers equine assisted therapy to students with special needs. Their lessons include a wide range of therapeutic goals and skills. Students can learn how to navigate a wheelchair accessible horse-drawn carriage to hippotherapy, which uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input.

“The programs offered at Fieldstone Farm are highly motivating because of the connection that participants develop with the horses,” says Lynnette Stuart, CEO at Fieldstone Farm. “Children and adults with a wide range of goals find that they achieve things beyond their expectations and that they often don’t even realize the many steps that go into their progress because working with these powerful animals is so inspiring.”

Also, service animals, such as dogs, are trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities as well as provide a therapeutic benefit to those with special needs. They can provide companionship to complement an overall care plan.

Anna van Heeckeren, founder of One Health Organization (onehealth.org), helps people with disabilities of all ages by providing financial assistance for veterinary care services.

Not sure where to start? She says, “PetPartners.org is the single best resource for finding pets to help those with disabilities.”

Aqua Therapy

Alana Gohn, 6, uses swimming as part of her treatment plan to manage the physical challenges associated with microcephaly, a rare neurological condition that delays development. Her parents Scott and Elaine, who created LiveSpecial.com, an online directory of more than 900 special needs providers, said it helped their daughter with mobility.

Aqua therapy enabled Alana to break barriers she encountered on land, achieving milestones while immersed in water including standing independently, taking her first steps and climbing stairs, according to her parents.

In fact, they attribute feats like rolling over to the agility and confidence she acquired through aquatics.

Although working with a certified aqua therapist is one option, Gohn’s family found success and savings by partnering with a professional swim instructor who collaborates with the child’s physical therapist.

  Speech Therapy at Home 

According to Michelle Foye, MA CCC-SLP Director of Speech  Language and Learning Services, Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center (CHSC), telepractice is a method for receiving speech language pathology services using a computer instead of in-office appointments. Services provided by the CHSC certified speech language pathology staff are done in the comfort of the person’s home. All that is needed is a computer with a high-speed internet connection and a web camera.

Telepractice addresses the same areas of need as in-office sessions, such as:

• Concern with fluency when speaking, stuttering

• Difficulty producing sounds in words, articulation

• Struggling with social skills

• Delays in verbally communicating with others

• Problems with comprehension or following directions

• Trouble with reading or writing

One of the many benefits of telepractice sessions is the ability to keep up with progress regardless of busy schedules. Flexible appointment times, no traffic, no travel and no waiting are added benefits.

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