Dolphins have fascinated humans for thousands of years. There are many confirmed stories of dolphins saving sailors and others who've gone overboard in the ocean, and dolphins in both the wild and controlled settings have exhibited various behaviors that suggest a significant amount of intelligence - as much or more intelligence as that shown by gorillas and other higher primates.
Many Different Applications
Perhaps it was just a matter of time before humans realized that interaction with dolphins could be of benefit to children and adults with special needs. "Dolphin therapy" was first conducted by Dr. David Nathanson in 1978. He studied whether interaction with these gentle animals could be used as a form of rehabilitation. His work led to expanded research by other scientists, and today dolphin therapy is used for children and adults with many different conditions, including:
- Cerebral palsy
- Muscular paralysis
- Neurological disorders
- Down's syndrome
- Global developmental delay
- Pain relief for spinal injuries
Dolphin Therapy and Children with Cerebral Palsy
Dolphin therapy will not cure cerebral palsy nor will it necessarily improve the physical symptoms of cerebral palsy. However, this type of therapy has been shown to improve the emotional state of children with special needs, and to help with their overall psychological condition and self-esteem. Decreases in fear, anxiety, and anger are often seen in children who undergo dolphin therapy, and greater assertive and other positive behaviors are observed.
What Dolphin Therapy Is Like
Dolphin therapy involves more than just being in a swimming area with dolphins. A dolphin therapist can devise a program that is personalized to the needs and abilities of a patient, taking into account the patient's specific symptoms and skill level. A child with cerebral palsy may need help with stretching muscles, movement, posture, and more. Direct contact with one or more dolphins may be used to encourage the child to move or behave in certain ways, and contact with the dolphins may also be used as a reward or motivation for engaging in a particular type of conduct.
As many people can confirm, an encounter with a dolphin often evokes a deep emotional response. Some therapists believe that children in particular are more responsive to dolphin therapy than to traditional forms of therapy because they are happy to be in contact with the dolphins, and they therefore have more enthusiasm for the tasks they're given during the course of a dolphin therapy session.
It has also been suggested that dolphins can sense physical trauma and disability in humans, and that the dolphins used in therapy motivate children to use the disabled parts of their bodies. However, much is unknown about dolphins and how they may help humans in therapeutic settings; scientists admit that the research is very preliminary. No controlled studies have been performed that confirm or deny the benefits of dolphin therapy for individuals with cerebral palsy or other disorders. The evidence is all anecdotal.
In addition, dolphin therapy is offered at only a very few locations. A facility for dolphin training and therapy sessions requires a lot of space, ocean water, and all the conditions that make for healthy dolphins.