Introducing animals into the life of a child with SEND can have untold benefits. The actions of stroking the soft fur of a dog or a rabbit can calm an anxious child very quickly, as carers of children with special educational needs know very well. Therapy animals are not just confined to cats and dogs, they can include hens, fish, reptiles and insects too, all living creatures which need care and careful handling.

There is a plethora of different therapies available to parents and teachers which have emerged in recent years, and animal-assisted therapies for education, play, speech and emotional support are proving very valuable, as animals have a natural ability to improve mood and stimulate happiness.

A child with SEND instinctively understands that an animal has no expectations, never judges, and doesn’t use language, therefore is often welcomed by children as an unconditionally accepted companionship with shared trust and affection at its core. In return, some animals such as dogs and horses, can often sense the vulnerability in children, and their nurturing instincts are employed, making them very gentle while engaging with the child.

Equine therapy uses horses to help children with varying disabilities. Introducing a child to a horse can help with sensory issues and fine motor skills if they are shown how to brush a horse or buckle a saddle. Benefits to children with ADHD include how to focus on specific tasks while keeping the animal calm, while a child with Autism may experience an increase in spatial awareness and better social skills. Being around animals and learning how to care for them can teach children a sense of responsibility while increasing their own self-confidence at the same time.

Where children with SEND can struggle to communicate and form bonds with their peers or adults, they may find the emotional challenges with human interaction melt away in the company of animals, as empathy is encouraged.

The Human-Equine Interaction Register (HEIR) which is run by Horses in Therapy and Education International (HETI) is a good starting point to find out more about equine assisted or facilitated programmes in the UK.B HEIR Register | HETI Federation

Many Animal Assisted Therapy/Interventions exist to enhance and complement the benefits of traditional therapy, such as ‘HugglePets in the community’ Animal Assisted Therapy | HugglePets in the Community and PAWS PAWS: Animal Assisted Therapy (

Information regarding education in Animal Therapy services can be found at:

Animal Assisted Therapy | Animal Therapy for People with SEN | SEN Animal Therapy | Special Educational Needs Animal Therapy (