Should My Child Have an Emotional Support Animal? 10 Things You Should Know
Throughout history, animals have been documented as companions, messengers, and heroes of mankind. Animals have an intangible quality that just makes people feel good and this special bond is especially strong in children. It’s commonly known that animals can support children with medical conditions such as blindness, epilepsy, or hearing impairment, but did you know many children qualify for a support animal to help them through emotional challenges?
If you think your child might benefit from the comfort of an emotional support animal, here are some things you should know:
1. There are different types of service animals
There are three different types of service animals designed to meet different needs:
Service animals (SA) – SA’s are trained to perform specific tasks related to medical disabilities such as stabilizing a person that has trouble walking or detecting the onset of seizures in a person with epilepsy
Psychiatric service animals (PSA) – PSA’s are trained to perform tasks related to psychiatric medical abilities such as reminding their handler to take their antidepressant medication
Emotional support animals (ESA’s) – ESA’s are not trained to perform specific tasks but benefit people with their presence and companionship
2. ESA's aid a wide variety of disorders
Common disabilities that ESA’s provide comfort for include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Stress and Anxiety
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Psychotic disorders
- Learning disorders
- Motor skill disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Gender identity disorders
- Aerophobia (fear of flying)
- Agoraphobia (fear of being outside of home)
If your child is struggling in any of these areas, they might benefit from the comfort of a cuddly friend.
3. They aren't allowed everywhere
Service animals and psychiatric service animals are universally allowed in public places, but that’s not always the case for emotional support animals. Some state and local governments do have laws that allow ESA’s in public, so it’s important to research the laws where you live before letting your child bring their pooch to the mall or movie theater. However, airlines are required to allow ESA’s to fly in the cabin for free, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for ESA’s in the workplace, and landlords can’t evict or charge a pet deposit for ESA’s.
4. They don't have to be dogs
When people think of service animals, dogs are usually first to come to mind. However, ESA’s don’t have to be of the canine variety. Because ESA’s aren’t required to be trained on any specific tasks, just about any domesticated animal can qualify. Hedgehogs, rabbits, mice, cats, ferrets, miniature pigs – you name it! The only requirement is that the animal must be manageable in public.
5. They build emotional intelligence
In addition to teaching love, loyalty, and affection, a good pet relationship can help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy. Being responsible for the care of an ESA creates a sense of purpose for the child and teaches them about respecting life and caring for others. Pets can also be a safe outlet for secrets and private thoughts because children often talk to their pets like they do their stuffed animals.
6. They reduce stress in children
Children with anxiety often feel like their lives are spiraling out of control. Everyday tasks such as heading to school or going to bed can cause a child with anxiety to feel panicked. An ESA can help provide love and comfort when a child is in stressful situations, improving the child’s confidence and increasing their sense of security.
7. They build children's social skills
ESA’s have been shown to significantly increase the social skills of children with emotional disorders. For kids struggling to build connections with others, having a pet can open the door for socialization. A child is more likely to engage when someone makes a comment about their animal or asks to pet it. Their ESA creates a safe, common place for them to talk about something that excites them.
8. They empower children with autism
Children with autism who own pets are more likely to have better social skills than those who don’t. Research has shown that children with autism who have ESAs are more likely to introduce themselves, ask for information, or respond to questions – all skills which are often difficult for them. In addition, ESAs have been shown to increase assertiveness, responsibility, cooperation, self-control, and social engagement in children with autism.
9. They reduce effects of trauma
When a child experiences trauma, whether it be related to abuse, witnessing violence, or grieving the loss of a loved one, they tend to replay parts of the incident(s) in their mind. They often dwell on what led up to the incident and think if they pay close attention they can avoid future traumas, causing undue fear and anxiety. Research has suggested an 82% reduction in symptoms of trauma after just one week of having an ESA. ESA’s help with crisis de-escalation and make children feel safe and comforted while overcoming their traumatic experience.
10. You'll require qualifications
Since your ESA does not require any special skills, they do not need to be certified as a support animal. What determines their status as an ESA is whether or not your child has the necessary documentation to prove that they’ve been prescribed an ESA. Your child must be screened by a mental health specialist and certified as emotionally disabled to legally qualify for an ESA. After being evaluated, your child’s mental health specialist must provide you with a formal letter stating that your child:
- Has a medical condition
- That your child is currently under their care for their condition
- Prescribes an emotional support animal as a necessary support for your child
They also may include specific details related to housing and air travel that are compliant with the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.
Our team of Specialists at Variations Psychology can evaluate your child for emotional disabilities and provide the necessary documentation to qualify them for an emotional support animal.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. Dr. Shinn works with parents and children to evaluate for mental and emotional health concerns and empowers them to discover ways to improve the mental health of each individual and the family as a whole.
Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout each stage of life. If you are a woman struggling with emotional or mental health challenges, Dr. Davis can evaluate your symptoms to see if you qualify for an emotional support animal and/or support you with other tools to lead a healthy, empowered life.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting men through life’s transitions. Men face a variety of unique challenges throughout their lives, and Dr. Sample is experienced in helping men and teen boys find resources to cope with life’s obstacles. Dr. Sample is qualified to evaluate and prescribe an emotional support animal to patients who qualify.
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More about Variations Psychology
Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.
Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams).
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Variations Psychology is located in Newport Beach, CA and provides counseling to residents throughout Orange County and its surrounding areas including Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Irvine, Shady Canyon, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Coto de Caza, Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Yorba Linda, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, Pelican Hill, Crystal Cove, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, and more.