How a therapy dog helps special ed students during COVID-19

A previous Districts of Distinction honoree has expanded a successful therapy dog program—and includes the K-9 on video-conferencing calls with students
By: | April 10, 2020
A school therapy dog named Hudson is providing social-emotional support for students with autism as well as students with special needs.A therapy dog named Hudson provides social-emotional support for students with special needs at Henry Hudson Regional School in New Jersey.

Hudson, a school therapy dog, poses in a video with an inspiring message for the community and special ed students.

Despite school closures, a Henry Hudson Regional School therapy dog named Hudson is still providing social-emotional support for students with special needs via a video-conferencing platform.

Hudson’s caregiver, who is a behavior and special ed teacher, includes Hudson on Google Hangouts with her autistic students twice per week. “These students are able to talk to him, and he makes them feel better during these difficult times,” says Principal and Curriculum Director Lenore M. Kingsmore of Henry Hudson, which was honored in Districts of Distinction years ago for its therapy dog program.

The school also recently shared a video on social media (see below) of the school therapy dog, faculty and student council members holding positive messages to uplift everyone’s spirits during the coronavirus pandemic. “Hudson is holding this ball in his mouth with a message saying that he misses them,” says Kingsmore.

Helping more than just students with autism

When DA first honored Henry Hudson’s school therapy dog program, Hudson only helped students with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other behavior needs feel more comfortable with expressing their emotions, but his role has since then expanded.

Related: Best (practices) in show: Therapy dogs in schools

Related: Start a therapy dog program in your school

Related: Three districts use specially trained dogs to increase student safety

“He still attends my multidisabled autistic classroom of middle schoolers every day, but he’s being utilized far more by students not on the spectrum who have an anxiety disorder,” says Kingsmore. The school also created a rotating schedule where students can work with Hudson individually. “Kids can go in there even if they just want to roll on the floor with him,” she says.

Mainstreaming students with special needs into general population

With Hudson’s help, a special ed student who was in eighth grade when Hudson first came to the school mainstreamed into the general population by junior year and now attends a local community college. “He’s our biggest success story,” says Kingsmore of the student. “He couldn’t sit still and would always hide under his desk whenever he heard loud noises. But our school dog therapy program has helped build his social confidence and handle social-emotional stress.” Many other special ed students have joined the general population.

Currently, a seventh grader who struggles with his emotions is learning to talk to others by caring for Hudson. “This student brushes him, feeds him, walks him, and talks with him,” says Kingsmore. “Our school therapy dog program is part of an initiative of promoting character that we have been pushing in the last two years. It’s about treating everyone and animals ith kindness.”

For more coronavirus coverage, click here.

To learn more about Districts of Distinction, click here.