Xena, a 4-month-old Labrador, will be the first assistance dog in Costa Rica to help a 7-year-old autistic boy named Aaron adapt better to his surroundings, thanks to a solidarity project undertaken by Spain's Association of Dog-Assisted Therapies, or AIAP.
Miguel Angel Signes is one of the instructors in charge of training the canine, and since early this year he has been in Costa Rica with AIAP President Nuria Luengo promoting this kind of treatment to aid the integration of people with disabilities or special needs into society.
Such therapies can help with the education and general treatment of children suffering some disability like cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and more, Signes told Efe.
Aaron is suffering an autistic disorder and thanks to Xena will be able to lower his stress and anxiety levels, since "the simple act of hugging, brushing or walking the dog is enough to reduce both symptoms," Signes said.
"The dog will also teach him to walk down the street correctly and will direct his steps in the right areas, as far away from the edge of the sidewalk as possible," Signes said.
The animals are used in such cases as motivational agents to reduce attention disorder, boost self-esteem, memory, concentration and even improve emotional relationships.
"The boy's disruptive behavior will be calmed down by the dog's presence, since he'll be bound to it at all times," Signes said.
Training an assistance dog can cost as much as 16,500 euros ($20,300), but in this case Xena's training will be free thanks to an agreement between AIAP and Aaron's parents.
"The project is very much a novelty in Costa Rica because up to now no assistance dog of this kind has been trained for that country or delivered there. But best of all, the boy is already having therapy sessions with Xena, which later on will help his adaptation," Signes said.
Therapies with animals are based on sound science. According to Signes, it has been proved that sessions with dogs and other animals are effective in working on the patient's behavior, communication and sociability.