asinotherapy at LATHAMCENTERS

Asinotherapy is a fancy word for “Donkey Therapy.” Our history with this unorthodox approach to animal therapy began in 2008 when Dr. Janice Forster, a renowned neuro-psychiatrist and expert in Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS) treatment, visited with Latham and encouraged us to consider developing an Asinotherapy Program for our students and adult individuals with PWS.  A treatment program using miniature donkeys had been developed in Germany and had been extremely successful in helping individuals with developmental disabilities learn important skills, including relationship-building and vocational training. Before the donkeys will allow anyone to work near them they need to feel safe so the students and adults must first earn their trust. Earning their trust means being gentle, being reliable and letting the donkeys know that our individuals are there to help them.

In the United States we are more familiar with Hippotherapy involving horses as a therapeutic tool. Over the years Latham Centers had students and residents engage in therapeutic riding activities in the community and saw the benefits derived from involving them in relationships with animals.

In 2009, Latham purchased a residential home in East Sandwich with grounds approved for the boarding of livestock. This opened the door for us to consider developing our Asinotherapy Program. With Dr. Forster’s guidance, we quickly learned that miniature donkeys were ideally suited for interacting with our PWS individuals. Temperamentally, they are known for their good nature, they crave attention and are very patient. A gentle, but at times stubborn personality is commonly recognized between donkeys and individuals with PWS. This mirroring provides many opportunities for learning, nurturing and building trust and self esteem while teaching empathy, responsibility and appropriate boundaries.

After Latham staff saw such high rates of success from our adults in the East Sandwich program, two more donkeys were donated to our new transitional residential home in Dennis. This home was also approved for the boarding of livestock, and now both student and adult residents can easily participate in Asinotherapy at Latham Centers.

Since 2009, Latham has trained dozens of our staff and adult residents with Prader-Willi Syndrome in the Asinotherapy Program. Staff and students of Latham School are now being introduced to the program for future trainings. As part of the program, individuals are trained to care for and nurture our six resident donkeys— Angus, Moonbeam, Jake, Curly, Esther and Esau.

Additional training features include:

  • Donkey 101 – what is a donkey, where do they come from, what work do they do in the “real” world, life-span and health issues, and temperament
  • Safety in the paddock and around the donkeys
  • Donkey and Paddock Care: This project has created tremendous excitement among our staff and friends in the community.



Program Goals, Activities, and Success

Our goal is to have Latham adult residents train and mentor Latham School students in the Asinotherapy Program. As trained adults take younger students under their wings, they will benefit from the interaction, helping them to become more compassionate and helpful to the younger person, and as individuals dealing with their disorder for a longer period of time, they can share their experiences living as an adult with PWS. The younger students, on the other hand, who generally do not interact with adults with the syndrome, will learn new life skills as they approach adulthood.

Students and residents at Latham Centers receive a great deal of individual attention, this includes the development of a needs-based Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for children and an Individual Service Plans (ISP) for adults. The overarching goal of Latham’s Asinotherapy Program is to help each student and/or adult individual make progress toward fulfilling his or her goals. We have realized great success on behalf of previously trained individuals, and look to the future for more dramatic gains in our Children’s Program.