Autism and Therapy Chickens

chickenMany families will attest to the therapeutic benefits of having animals for their children on the autism spectrum. Families have explained how dogs, cats, dolphins, alpacas, and fish-filled aquariums have positively impacted their children’s communication, social and independent living skills.

Keeping chickens and a chicken coop are now also being praised as therapeutic for children on the autism spectrum. Families who keep chickens are getting their children with autism involved in feeding and caring for the chickens which promotes self-help and independent living skills. The chickens serve as a conversation starter for children who are shy and limited socially, thereby helping to improve their social skills with peers and adults. The children feel safe and open around the chickens and are able to play with them, while playing with other children is often difficult. This increases the child’s play skills.

Children on the autism spectrum can also use behavioral methods to teach the chicken to do various tricks such as pecking a particular area to request food or engage in a variety of behaviors (turning, walking, going left or right) before getting fed with guidance from their parents. This gives the child the feeling of being a leader, whereas children on the autism spectrum are often in a « follower’s » role ; having to follow directions at school and at home.

Having chickens can also increase the verbal communication of children with autism. Parents and educators working with the children can create activities around the vocabulary words associated with the children’s chickens and use these items to prompt the child to mand (request), tact (label), receptively identify (such as « show me the chicken food ! ») and echo (repeat) various vocabulary words.

As reported by Autism Daily Newscast, the Hart family became well-known at the end of 2013 for their fight to keep their son JJ’s therapy chickens whom he affectionately refers to as his « ducks ». Ashleigh Hart, JJ’s mom shares,

« JJ’s chickens really helped him come out of his shell ! He is physically active and social. The chickens helped give JJ something to look forward to. They love him with no conditions and in turn, he loves them. When he comes home from school, he goes out, he sees his chickens, gives them treats and plays with them and is content.

« They have helped him physically, mentally, socially and even in terms of his diet (he eats the hens’ eggs). The chickens encouraged him to speak. He started making sounds and mimicking them when he was younger. »