r. Moosa is a regular at Sa-raswathi Kendra Learning Centre for Children. As heenters the class, the chil-dren crowd around him, excitedand a little scared. He sits downand waits patiently as they ap-proach him. “Hi! My name is Ash-ok,” one of the boys says shyly,adding “I like
. Do you like
?” Moosa holds out a paw and someone at the back says,“He likes Dosa too.”Dr. Moosa is a black Labrador.Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre for Children, a part of theC.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Founda-tion, is India’s ﬁrst full-timeschool for children with autism,learning disabilities, dyslexia andbehaviour and habit disorders. Itprovides a range of innovativetherapies for its 175-odd studentsand one of it is animal-assistedtherapy for autistic children. And what better animal to work withthan man’s best friend?“Autistic children have an in-ability to communicate verbally and concentrate on one particu-lar thing. Some of them nevertalk. But when there is a dog, they feel a lot more at ease. We talk through the dog and encouragethe children to reply. This not on-ly improves their verbal commu-nication but they also learn toconcentrate. We have found it tobe more effective than traditionaltherapy,” says Marlene J. Kam-dar, the principal.Dr. Dog has been around for13-odd years and remains a high-ly successful method even today.Dr. Moosa is the seventh on call.One among the therapy’s bestsuccess stories hangs in the frontofﬁce of the school in the form of a framed chart with the childishdrawing of a Dachshund, 10scrawling lines written in sketchpen describing it and ‘Pet Ther-apy with Sachin’ written in big bold letters at the top. “Sachin isa little Dachshund puppy… Hehas a body like a sausage...” itgoes. It was written by an autisticboy who, after nine years of si-lence, spoke about Sachin theﬁrst ever time he spoke.“You can’t have this kind of success with other animals. Buteven with dogs, the best breeds to work with are Labradors and re-trievers. They’re naturally friend-ly dogs. The smaller breeds areunpredictable and though we did work with two Dachshunds, labsare the best,” Dr. Nanditha Krish-nan, Hon. Director, CPR Founda-tion, says.Dr. Dog sessions are two timesa week for about 45 minutes. It ison a one-on-one basis and thedog works with three or four kidsevery class. During the course thestudent works with dogs in aplanned way to increase desir-able abilities.Saraswathi Kendra, in associa-tion with Blue Cross, certiﬁesthese dogs and trains them foruse in other special schoolsacross the city.“We encourage volunteers too.People can bring in their dog to work with us for the Dr. Dog pro-gramme. The dog has to be mini-mum two years old, healthy,vaccinated and must have basicobedience skills. A lot of peoplehave volunteered in the past butthey drop out soon because weinsist that the dogs have to besterilised to prevent aggression.But it’s imperative because onemistake could cost the dog andthe child their life,” Nandithaexplains. As Dr. Moosa leaves the class,the kids protest for a few minutesand then watch as their doctor isled away by his handler.“This helps them learn to letgo,” Nanditha concludes, adding,“But I must tell you that there issomething about a dog thatmakes the child talk. No oneknows how or why. But it justhappens.”
Students of Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre during a sessionwith Dr. Dog.
PHOTO: R. RAVINDRAN
“There issomething about adog that makes thechild talk. No oneknows how orwhy. But it justhappens.”
A black Labrador plays the role of adoctor at Saraswathi Kendra LearningCentre for Children in Alwarpet