Special program encourages autistic kids to interact with animals

A very special program at one valley school uses animals to help students who have been diagnosed with various degrees of autism.

The purpose is multi-fold and the results...Well, some say they are nothing short of amazing.
 
15 -year old Jospeh and Milo, the Eclectus parrot, have a very special bond.

"Milo is my favorite."

Once a week, Jospeh and a handful of other students spend about an hour with animals like Milo.

"What's going on with you…?"
 
There's also a lizard, a snake, a tortoise, a guinea pig, a hamster and even a fish. 

"My day is actually very good when I come here," said Student Zoe Marcum."

"Students with autism… they struggle to interact with their peers," said Teacher Judy Subaitis. "They have anxiety."

A former animal handler and now science teacher, Judy Subaitis has helped Banner Children's Academy in Tempe incorporate animals into the curriculum. The purpose she says is to encourage socialization.  

"It's actually shown that it lowers blood pressure when people interact with animals," says Subaitis. "For our students, it does more than that. It calms them down, it gives them confidence; they have to learn to handle snakes and parrots."

"We just care for the animals and stuff like that," says Marcum. "Sometimes we do presentations, like about every week."

The students travel to nearby preschools and kindergarten classes teaching younger students about the amphibians and mammals, all the while they gain more confidence in their own abilities and continue to foster the bonds they have formed with the animals.

"I really enjoy coming here," says Student Jospeh Gecho. "I just don't know how to describe it."

The animal care class is unique to Banner's Children academy and the lessons it teaches have already made a huge impact in the lives of those enrolled in it.

Once a week, the class also heads over to the Arizona Animal Welfare League where staff and volunteers help the students work with animals there.
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