Dogs make a difference to special-needs students
Lilli Magill hugs therapy dog Sunny on May 3 at Carlisle Elementary School. The dogs have been visiting the school every Thursday to work with students with multiple disabilities.
Man's best friend again is proving its loyalty at Carlisle Elementary School as students with disabilities benefit from therapy dogs.
Kimberly Ebert, multiple-disabilities teacher at Carlisle, said this is her third year of using therapy dogs for her students.
"Therapy dogs are calming to my students ... specifically my students with autism," she said. "The dogs help them relax."
For the past two years, Carlisle students have spent time with dogs from Pet Therapy International. This year, therapy dogs in training have been visiting the school.
Interacting with a less-experienced dog benefits both the students and the dog, as the dog needs work interacting with various children, Ebert said.
"It's definitely a different experience," she said. "It's almost like having a puppy."
The students also learn responsibility tasks by calling the dog, brushing it and giving it water and food.
"Not only does it teach the kids responsibility, but it's also a reward for them," she said.
Carlisle offers MD classes for students in grades K-4. They are divided not just by grade level but also skill level and personality.
The students have a variety of multiple disabilities, including Down syndrome, speech and language disabilities, occupational disabilities, ADHD, cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities.
Some of the students also are integrated into the classroom so they have opportunities to interact with other students.
The therapy dogs are the only therapeutic activity the students participate in, but they also work on other activities within the classroom.
A few years ago, MD students began working one on one with fourth-graders via a buddy program.
A fourth-grade teacher had approached Ebert to say her students had questions about MD students and thought it might be a good idea for them to be more integrated.
Once a week, fourth-grade students come over to work with the MD students on reading, homework, social activities or holiday celebrations.
"It has really changed the fourth-graders," Ebert said. "They used to be nervous around my students, and now they are developing relationships, which are helping them be more accepting and patient."
Ebert said she's heard from parents of the fourth-graders who have said their children now want to become MD teachers or work with special-needs children.
"It's also been great for my students," she said. "I had a student that used to hide under the table when the fourth-graders would come, but now he gets very excited and can't wait to see them again."
Ebert said it has been great to watch the fourth-graders say hi to her students when they see them and work with them so patiently.
"You will see one of my kids getting upset and hear a fourth-grader say, 'That's OK; just try again,'" she said.
The MD students are continuing to work on life skills in the classroom in addition to academics, such as safety skills, social skills, measuring and counting, table manners, making food, telling time and other skills.
Ebert said the therapy dogs have been proven to help students, sick people and senior citizens stay calm.
"It's really good for my kids," she said. "They like it."