Dolphin Assisted Therapy

Originating in 1978 by Dr. David Nathanson, Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) has been used as a therapeutic approach to increase speech and motor skills in patients who have been diagnosed with developmental, physical, and/or emotional disabilities, such as mental retardation, Down syndrome, and autism. It is suggested that the unconditional love and support a dolphin offers can benefit children and other mentally ill patients by helping them learn to develop trust. Many believe that dolphins have human-like emotions and the compassion that they’re able to give increases self-confidence, social skills and academic achievement in children and others who may be lacking these skills.

Since its’ introduction, dolphin assisted therapy has become a very controversial topic in the medical world. Theories such as the one by Nathanson suggest that dolphin assisted therapy is simply a program that works to modify behavior by rewarding the patient with dolphin swims for performing a desired function.

Scientists, however, are considering the possibility that the sonar of the dolphins can actually trigger the healing process by increasing T-cells and endorphins.

In some cases, scientists have suggested that dolphins actually have the ability to target areas in the human body with their sonar and repair damaged tissue.

DAT has been suggested for use in healing and pain relief as well as increasing attention span, enhancing learning, and increasing motor skills and coordination in children. While dolphin therapy seems to work best with children, it’s also a popular therapy for handicapped adults.

Although no scientists claim to know exactly how it works and there is really no scientific data to back up their claims, dolphin assisted therapy is increasing in popularity and is being offered at several aquariums in the United States. At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, for example, children can participate in several programs designed to modify their behaviors with rewards such as swimming with and feeding the dolphins. These programs, however, come with a hefty price tag that can range anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 for 5 or 6 days.

Those critical of DAT, however, argue that simply buying a small pet for the child will have the same effect and some actually argue that holding dolphins in captivity for what they deem “strictly recreational purposes” should be considered cruelty to animals. Scientists also doubt the ability of a dolphin to sense and target specific tissue with their sonar. The absence of any scientific data to prove these claims is referred to often in the scientific community. While research into the validity of dolphin assisted therapy continues, it is cautioned that DAT is not a miracle cure and any organization promising such should be avoided. If you’re interested in reading more on dolphin assisted therapy, the links below provide some excellent information on available programs.

Aquathought Labs, Inc. http://www.aquathought.com

Island Dolphin Care http://www.islanddolphincare.org

Water Planet http://www.waterplanetusa.com

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