Pets Help Teach in Speech-Language Pathology Sessions As an SLP, Sue Drouin has worked with children who have social, communicative, and learning challenges for 20 years. She practices in a variety of school-based settings although most of her work consists of private services performed in the individuals’ homes. An animal lover, Drouin said she has always sought ... Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   February 01, 2006
Pets Help Teach in Speech-Language Pathology Sessions
Author Notes
  • Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.
    Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.×
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Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   February 01, 2006
Pets Help Teach in Speech-Language Pathology Sessions
The ASHA Leader, February 2006, Vol. 11, 34-35. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW2.11022006.34
The ASHA Leader, February 2006, Vol. 11, 34-35. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW2.11022006.34
As an SLP, Sue Drouin has worked with children who have social, communicative, and learning challenges for 20 years. She practices in a variety of school-based settings although most of her work consists of private services performed in the individuals’ homes. An animal lover, Drouin said she has always sought to integrate them into her work. She began to include the animals who share her home in daily interactions with the children.
“Whether it was a new kitten, a bunny, or a turtle we found in the yard, I found a way to include it for a month of themed activities. Each time, the child’s reactions were priceless-perhaps revealing an inner connection with their own personal world. A live snail, a new goldfish, a busy hamster all brought more interest and excitement to the table than an expensive battery operated noisy toy,” she said.
Drouin taught basic information about the creatures, such as where they live, what they eat, how they spend their days, and what is special about them. Lessons about the animals were individualized to facilitate the social and communication goals for each child.
The success of these sessions encouraged Drouin to try working with a dog. In 2004, she purchased a black and white Papillon puppy. Toy dogs that weigh from 3 to 9 pounds, this breed is ranked highly for obedience. The puppy, named Lily Bliss, took to the work immediately, charming even those who are not dog friendly, Drouin said.
Drouin and Lily completed Basic I and II obedience classes from a local trainer. In May 2005 Lily and Drouin’s mixed breed cat Opal received their Pet Partners® certification, which sets standards to guide and protect both owner and pet.
“I am allowed to offer services with my pets in various settings,” she said. “Also I can trust that any member who would like to join my group and is certified, is suitable and safe to be considered a member.”
Drouin then attended the first national Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) Rendezvous in Utah for certification. This program’s mission is to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as literacy mentors.
“My work with Lily has proven incredibly fulfilling for me, yet observably and reportedly satisfying and successful for the children and their families,” she said. Sometimes at appointments, a sibling takes Lily for a walk while Drouin works with their brother or sister. Others earn “Lily dress up time” for doing good work and are allowed to put her into a costume. The pup has been photographed in everything from a wedding gown to a ladybug costume.
“We use the ‘designer’ outfit photos to share socially, and to label, comment, describe, story-tell, and make suppositions about where she might go in that outfit,” she said. The children play with Lily. “She will return a ball as many times as they can throw it, which can be work physically as well as interactively,” Drouin said, adding that the children learn personal care skills by getting water for Lily or setting up a spot for her to relax.
Lily is also important for children who have sensory challenges or a fear of dogs. For them, Drouin’s goal begins with supporting their abilities to regulate their emotions and be in the room with a dog, appropriately ignore her, and tolerate her presence. Lily is never off her leash, or allowed to jump up, lick, or surprise the children.
Drouin’s private SLP practice, CommuniK-9, will continue to integrate the use of pets as appropriate. She also is developing a number of Pet Partner Teams in her area. “The focus of these teams will continue to ultimately be the sharing of the unconditional love of a pet with others, and to expand the discipline for other avenues and venues.”
One target is “Dog Gone Visiting,” a non-profit organization with a goal of visiting in schools, medical facilities, nursing homes, and other facilities. The other project, “Dog Gone Reading,” is a program to support those learning to read in private and school settings.
Sue Drouin is a speech-language pathologist in Salem, NH. Contact her by e-mail at sue@communik-9.com or sue@doggonevisiting.com. Visit the Delta Society Web site or the Intermountain Therapy Animals Web site for more information about pet assisted therapy.
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February 2006
Volume 11, Issue 2