Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hopes are up for dolphin therapy centre

PARENTS OF children with Down’s syndrome were left disappointed when the Agriculture Ministry turned down its request to set up a dolphin therapy centre.“We are always looking for new ways to keep our children preoccupied and when we heard that dolphin therapy benefits children with Down’s syndrome, we thought it would be a good way to entertain them,” Michalis Louca, chairman of the Down’s syndrome Association said.“I don’t know exactly how it helps, but the general concept from European and international associations is that it has been found to help…We wanted to give the children a chance. When you have a child and you know something will help him or her, then (as a parent) you will try to offer your child whatever you can within your reach and ability.”He said the association had even succeeded in securing a local businessman’s backing for the proposal.

“We managed to get someone to invest in the project, someone who would cover the costs of building a special aquatic centre and pay for the importation of the dolphin… The same businessman said he would create jobs for Down’s syndrome children at the centre,” he said.Louca told the Cyprus Mail the proposal’s details had not been worked out pending the ministry’s response.“We wanted to see if the response would be positive or negative before going further.”Louca said the association had thought to import two to three dolphins to start with.

“We’d have gone into detail if the government had said yes. There was also a suggestion that once the centre was up and running it could be used as a sort of aquarium and allow other people to pay an entrance fee to come in and see the dolphins so that the investor could recoup some of his money.”But the Agriculture Ministry turned down the association’s application to import the aquatic mammals on the grounds that dolphins are a protected species under international treaties. Senior Environment official Antonis Antoniou added: “The Cabinet also decided to ban the use of dolphins for any purpose.”The decision was reached several years ago following the death of four dolphins and a sea lion at an Ayia Napa marine park.

The park had been allowed to deteriorate by its owners which resulted in the mammals’ death. The International Animal Rescue (IAR) was alerted to the park’s appalling conditions and in 2000 stepped in and saved the life of its one remaining sea lion.However Louca said the association was currently in the process of determining to what extent the ban extended to using the marine creatures for therapy purposes.

He said: “Personally I think it’s a small possibility [that we’ll be granted the import licence] but we plan to exhaust all avenues. We’ve heard that there’s something similar in Greece [a dolphin centre] and we want to examine if they’ve had any problems with the European Union. If they haven’t and they’re allowed to operate the centre long term then we’ll look into it. If they’re only allowed to operate it for a limited period of time then we won’t bother with it [the project] anymore.”Antoniou said the association could try and reapply all it wanted but it would get nowhere.“

A political decision was made and it’s strictly forbidden. There is no way they will be allowed to import the dolphins,” Antoniou said.What is Dolphin Therapy?DOLPHIN THERAPY refers to a type of treatment for people with and without disabilities by using dolphin interaction as an attempt to rectify or lessen the disability.It dates back to the 1950s and the work of Dr John Lilly, who studied the effects of dolphins on individuals with disabilities.

In the early seventies Dr Betsy Smith, an educational anthropologist, noticed the therapeutic effects of dolphins on her disabled brother. A few years later dolphin therapy was developed by Dr Nathanson at the Dolphin Human Therapy centre in Florida, America. Dr Nathanson studied the interaction between dolphins and children with Down’s syndrome and as he obtained good results more centres opened world wide.

Because dolphins seem to enjoy spontaneous nonverbal play and have a reputation for being both gentile and attentive, some therapists believe that these animals may be able to help them teach and motivate otherwise unresponsive people. Theories range from a belief that individual experience stimulation of the immune system when interacting with dolphin, thus promoting healing; to a belief that the individuals receive such joy and unconditional love from dolphins that they are more apt to experience recovery.

One of the most popular theories is that the dolphin’s use of sonar and echolocation produces changes in a person’s body tissue and cell structure. Similar to the effect of music therapy, some researches have suggested that the sounds dolphins emit thought their whistles and clicks help produce these change.The aim of the therapy is to increase sensory activities. Programmes take place in a pool with captive or semi-captive dolphins and therapists assist children who are asked to swim, touch, feed or pat the animals.

Therapists work on specific areas such as speech, behaviours and motor skills, they customise programmes to the needs of the children. Benefits from Dolphin Therapy include:· Strong emotional change· Children calm down· Improved communication· Increased attention span · Increased confidence and self esteem ·

Improved gross or fine motor skills · Better co-ordination· Better eye contact, smiling, laughing, touching · Better immune system. Researchers have also found that dolphin therapy alleviates depression, boosting production of infection fighting T-cells, stimulating production of endorphins and hormones, enhancing recovery, and reducing pain. These results are based on examination of brain wave patterns, psychological testing, blood chemistry, health of the immune system, the state of the brain, and cell make up.

Children and adults with the following conditions may receive benefits from this type of treatment: Autism, Rett Syndrome, Down Syndrome, mental retardation, spinal cord injury, visual impair, cerebral palsy, ADHD, Cancer, post traumatic stress disorder, speech and cognitive difficulties, multiple forms of emotional problems, and mentally, emotionally, and physically impaired children.

If you wish to learn more about dolphin assisted therapy, I invite you to visit the following site:

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"