Heeling House, Inc., based in Sterling, Va., works to improve the lives of children with special needs through animal-assisted interactions. The nonprofit organization, a new 100WomenStrong grant recipient this year, provides animal-assisted therapy (AAT) to children with social, emotional or anxiety-driven challenges; children with physical disabilities; and children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
In 2015, its first full year of operation, Heeling House had eight Therapy Animal Teams that served more than 550 clients in Loudoun County Public Schools and local therapeutic centers. Last year, Heeling House grew to 15 Therapy Animal Teams that provided service to more than 800 across Loudoun County.
The 2017 grant from 100WomenStrong is designed to support the Heeling House’s Animal Assisted Social Skills program, which includes 10 weeks of instruction using therapy animals to help children between the ages of 4 and 14 improve their social skills. One of the biggest challenges that children with ASD face is around social skills; however, research has shown that exposure to social situations and the practice of social skills in a safe and familiar environment can alleviate anxiety.
By the end of June 2018, Heeling House hopes to be serving 80 students each week in its Animal Assisted Social Skills program.
“Heeling House is so grateful and honored to receive a grant from 100WomenStrong that will make it possible for us to offer this new and innovative animal assisted social skills program to children in our community,” said Kathy Benner, Executive Director. “With the number of children diagnosed with ASD rising every year, the need for social skills classes also has increased.
“Research has proven that AAT produces more results than traditional therapies alone, as children are more willing to participate when an animal is integrated into the program. The unconditional love, acceptance and tolerance that the children receive from the dogs in a fun, interactive environment allows them to improve their communication and social skills very quickly,” Benner explained. “We are thrilled that 100WomenStrong believes in and supports our mission, allowing us to bring this much-needed service to our community.”