Four-legged friends to the rescue


Dr Khew (left) gently passing a baby tortoise to Khew-Yap. — Photos: SIA HONG KIAU/ The Star

WHEN Dr EJ Khew’s son was diagnosed with autism, he was devastated, but it spurred him to find effective methods in improving the development of those with the condition.

It was at this juncture that Dr Khew decided to give animal-assisted therapy (AAT) a try for his son, Young Khew-Yap.

“At the age of three, my son was diagnosed with autism. He would not make eye contact, had trouble vocalising and could not even walk straight.

“Three months after trying animal-assisted therapy, there was a significant difference in my son.

“His motor skills improved and he was able to interact with us more effectively,” he said.

Dr Khew learnt of this method during his time studying for a Doctor of Science Zoology (Animal Behaviour) programme.

He said during the course of his research, he found animals could help in the emotional, physical and social development of special needs children as they often shy away from interacting and mixing with other people.

Khew-Yap playing in the area where animals such as gerbils, rabbits and hedgehogs are kept. The animals give him confidence to bond with people.
Khew-Yap playing in the area where animals such as gerbils, rabbits and hedgehogs are kept. The animals give him confidence to bond with people.

“Animals give children a warm and secure feeling for them to have the confidence to bond with others,” he said.

Dr Khew added the type of animal was also important for the therapy.

“Some animals like dogs and horses have been known to be great in these instances, but not every dog or horse has the right characteristics for the therapy,” he said.

Dr Khew used gerbils, rabbits, a small bearded dragon, a hedgehog and even a cat in his therapies.

“Some may think that a cat is not suitable as they are known for their distant behaviour. But if you find the right cat with the right attitude, it is a different story,” he said.

An example is Dr Khew’s rescue cat, affectionately called Miow by Khew-Yap.

Dr Khew said interaction with different types of animals also enhanced the senses of a child and build up their sensory and motor skills.

A small bearded dragon is used to help special needs children improve their fine motor skills.
A small bearded dragon is used to help special needs children improve their fine motor skills. 

The improvement in his son’s condition led him to set up Animals for Young (AFY), a holistic early intervention centre for special needs children.

He hopes the centre can assist children with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.

Dr Khew said the centre in Cyberjaya, is located in a housing area which allows children to undergo the therapy in a comfortable environment.

A full-time occupational therapist is also at hand to help out at the centre.

“It is a long process, but early intervention can make a difference in preparing a child to become independent and contribute to society,” he said.

For details, contact drkhew@animalsforyoung.com or 011-1014 0828, or visit www.animalsforyoung.com

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