I have the privilege of working at MAP College, a MacIntyre No Limits provision in Oxfordshire. As Programme Co-ordinator I get to see the amazing progress made by a range of students each year. In the Easter term I brought home Copper, a Labrador, whose photographs caused quite a commotion at MAP. Following some paper work and risk assessing we were ready for a visit! There is a wide body of knowledge demonstrating how work with animals can improve confidence and motivate social communication, but it really was an amazing thing to see first-hand.
Zack was a new student with selective mutism who had low confidence levels which impacted on his engagement. When attending puppy training sessions Zack maintained eye contact with Copper and spoke clearly. The change in his body language was clear, Zack was a confident young man and Copper took note. On one occasion during recall training Zack shouted Copper’s name so loud it took us all by surprise!
These Friday sessions became very popular and Zack soon found himself in a group environment. He managed this change well and by the end of the year was using his communication skills to help his peers work with Copper, demonstrating the tricks we had taught. Over time this confidence began to appear in other areas of Zack’s programme, skills that will help him transition into a group environment at college.
Other students have also had improved engagement. Two students, with low attendance, attended college on a Friday to meet Copper when this is usually their day off!
There are certainly risks involved in having any animal in a college setting and these need to be well managed. Zack responded positively to this new responsibility, as did his peers which have improved confidence across our learner base. This academic year we hope to build AQA unit accreditation into these sessions so that these achievements can be formally recognised.
Programme Co-ordinator, MacIntyre No Limits, Oxfordshire
The name of the student in this blog has been changed.