Animal Assisted Therapy Reviews

During 2021, Dr Bowers engaged the question of canine assisted Autism support for an NDIS participant in Tasmania. Knowing the NDIS has not approved a case of canine assisted therapy since the very early days of the scheme, we took a comprehensive approach to the review under our roles as senior specialists in behaviour support and counselling therapies. Our registration includes early childhood intervention and this case began in that environment but due to systemic issues and barriers these limitations were also challenged by other players in the situation.

Andy Grace chillin’ before a telehealth session

Suffice to say, we and the team won the case for the participant. The NDIA funded the canine specialist costs for dog training and support, and for annual costs associated with maintaining the canine specialist provider’s role and training of family members or others to take the lead role with dog handling.

It goes without saying that we are open to helping with requests for animal assistance reviews. The NDIS requires justification under therapeutic reasons within the “Assistive Technology Application” process. This process required us to look at the details of a case and apply the best practice knowledge from the empirical literature. In the situation of canine therapy with Autism, we did a slightly protracted literature search and wrote a paper on the subject. This comprised part of the empirical evidence for the practice based on international and emerging research.

We then assisted other therapists to assess and provide input to the evaluation. These included the Occupational Therapist, and any data from past clinical assessments and medical files. In other cases, different specialists may be referred to help i.e. Speech Pathologist, Physiotherapist, Clinical Psychologist, as well as various medical or allied health practitioners.

The animal assistance provider needed to write costings and contribute to reports and applications. Then the package needed to be edited and drawn together, which was partly our role in collaboration with all the stakeholders including parents and NDIS participant as warranted and as appropriate. The last comment involves sensitivity to the fact that many NDIS participants may or may not be able or capable to contribute in an active way to the formal review process given age or disability.

We have helped over the years in various ways with cases that included equine therapy. There are other forms of canine therapy that do not involve formally trained assistance dogs. For example, we collaborate with our dogs who engage with us when with clients in online video sessions. Two of our pups are aged and semi-retired.

Our new pup, Andy Grace, is about a year old and is still very much a puppy. Andy visits with clients and helps out a lot simply in being with us, opening up conversation, and helping to set everyone at ease and in a relaxed mindset. This helps with both children and adult participants. To our knowledge we may be among the first therapists to engage animal assisted therapy via telehealth.

We might add that many people may want to have an animal to live at home, and in many cases this would be facilitated by private methods and costings. Having a pet is a great therapeutic and lifestyle advantage for many. This being said, we have seen cases where we advocate for support funding around individual’s needs to maintain and keep a pet at home. In such cases, the NDIS may not pay for the pet directly but they will pay for other associated needs like having a Disability Support Worker role assigned to help the person maintain the pet, provide cleaning, help with budgeting and shopping, etc…

We also see cases where people would benefit under least restrictive behaviour support methods to have a pet in the home, or to have a therapy pet visit for sessions on a regular basis. These cases would usually need a specialist in behaviour support to provide an assessment and rationale for what costs the NDIS may consider reasonable and necessary under the Act 2013.

We love to advocate for animal assisted therapy and lifestyle support so much that we joined the Australian Animal Therapies Ltd – Animals Helping Humans association. Their website (as at 4-5-22) provides this insightful statement about the importance of this area of service.

Animal Therapies Ltd (ATL) connects those in need with animal-assisted services that may prevent or help manage disability, illness and suffering. This includes people at risk of, or who are, experiencing mental illness, eye disease, hearing impairment, seizures, asthma, life threatening allergies, diabetes, fluctuating blood pressure, cerebral palsy, autism, post traumatic stress, episodic or serious medical crises, disability, acquired brain injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke, spinal cord injury and other physical, neurological or psychological conditions.  

To contact us for a service, please go to the contact page for details. We wish you and your family every blessing and peace.

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