Dolphin Therapy for Autism

by Sam Malone

Dolphin Assisted Therapy can be described as a new field of modern medicine that is categorized by some people, as a part of Animal Therapy. Though this form of treatment is relatively new, it already claims to have documented positive results in patients that have shown willingness to try it.

This form of therapy dates all the way back to the 1950s, when the effect of human interaction with dolphins was studied by Dr. John Lilly. However, the Dolphin Assisted Therapy program was founded by Dr. Ludmila Lukina in 1986.

Patients undergoing dolphin assisted therapy are made to swim with dolphins for a while. It is a well-known fact that dolphins are kind and intelligent creatures. Therefore, those who advocate dolphin therapy believe that the flow of water, the touch of the dolphin's body and voices issued (by the dolphin) have healing powers, which could be beneficial for children with special needs. There are several health benefits that have been associated with Dolphin therapy, some of which include:

  • Boosting confidence in children with special needs. Just being with an animal who senses their needs helps these kids feel better and more confident
  • Enhancement of coordination and motor skills
  • Increase in attention spans
  • Reduction of pain
  • Stimulating the immune system

Dolphin experts state that these animals emanate unconditional love, which can be sensed by the patient. Therefore, dolphin assisted therapy is recommended for people with various disorders, which include:

  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Down syndrome
  • Rett syndrome
  • Speech and cognitive problems
  • Spinal cord injuries

As dolphins are highly intelligent creatures, it is believed that they can help people suffering from neurological disorders, especially autism. Therefore, parents who seen or heard of the benefits of animal therapy, may be willing to try dolphin therapy for autistic children.

However, dolphin assisted therapy is still a controversial topic in the medical community, as several medical experts believe that it is neither a practical form of long-term treatment, nor does it provide any special benefits that cannot be derived from other forms of therapy.

Jim Ball, who is the Chairman of the Board Of Directors of the Autism Society as well as a behavioral specialist with a running practice in New Jersey, claims that autistic children may become highly engaged and lively around a dolphin, but the emotional boost in not likely to last. He also highlights that autistic children cannot go swimming with the dolphins every day, which makes this form of therapy a short-term one. Lori Marino, a senior lecturer at the Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology Program claims that while swimming with dolphins may be a fun experience for kids, dolphin therapy cannot be considered a valid treatment for any disorder.

Therefore, before trying dolphin therapy for autism, parents are strongly advised to consult a doctor.


  1. Emory University (2007, December 18). Dolphin 'Therapy' A Dangerous Fad, Researchers Warn. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 27, 2012, from

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