Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Study: The Family Dog: Could Help Boost Physical Activity for Kids with Disabilities

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Study: The Family Dog: Could Help Boost Physical Activity for Kids with Disabilities

Article excerpt

The family dog could serve as a partner and ally in efforts to help children with disabilities incorporate more physical activity into their daily lives, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

In a case study of one 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and his family's dog, researchers found the intervention program led to a wide range of improvements for the child, including physical activity as well as motor skills, quality of life and human-animal interactions. "These initial findings indicate that we can improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, and we can get them to be more active," said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU's (Oregon State University) College of Public Health and Human Sciences and corresponding author on the study. "And in this case, both are happening simultaneously, which is fantastic." The researchers detailed the child's experience in the adapted physical activity intervention program in a case study just published in the journal Animals. Co-authors are Monique Udell of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; Craig Ruaux of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine; Samantha Ross of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Amanda Tepfer of Norwich University and Wendy Baltzer of Massey University in New Zealand. The research was supported by the Division of Health Sciences at OSU.

Children with physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, spend significantly less time participating in physical activity compared to their peers and are considered a health disparity group, meaning they generally face more health concerns than their peers.

Researchers designed an adapted physical activity, animal-assisted intervention where the family dog would serve as a partner with the child in physical activities designed to help improve overall physical activity, motor skills and quality of life. The family dog is a good choice for this type of intervention because the animal is already known to the child and there is an existing relationship--and both the dog and the child will benefit from the activities, MacDonald said.

Researchers took initial assessments of the child's daily physical activity, motor skills and quality of life before starting the eight-week intervention. A veterinarian examined the dog's fitness for participation and the human-animal interaction between the dog, a year-old Pomeranian, and the child was also assessed.

Then the pair began the eight-week intervention, which included a supervised physical activity program once a week for 60 minutes and participation in activities such as brushing the dog with each hand; playing fetch and alternating hands; balancing on a wobble board; and marching on a balancing disc.

"The dog would also balance on the wobble board, so it became a challenge for the child--if the dog can do it, I can, too," MacDonald said. "It was so cool to see the relationship between the child and the dog evolve over time. They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child. It becomes, in part, about the dog and the responsibility of taking care of it."

The dog and the child also had "home work," which included brushing the dog, playing fetch and going on daily walks. …

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