Our rural youth project has seven cats, a farm dog and a horse. One boy, who has special educational needs, spends all his time with the animals. Other children tease and torment him. What should I do?
Animals can be very comforting. Most animals respond to humans with unconditional affection. They are not demanding, judgmental or opinionated. For a young man who might find the world challenging, spending time with animals can be relaxing and affirming.
Animals are often used therapeutically with people for a variety of reasons. It sounds like this young man is more comfortable with the animals than with other young people because he feels more of a connection, and I would encourage this.
To dissuade the other young people from teasing him, motivate them to learn more about the animals and spend time with them, together with the young man. This will develop understanding and a trusting relationship in which they can share appreciation of the animals and make a stronger connection themselves.
Answered by Tracie Trimmer-Platman, senior lecturer in youth and community work at the University of East London
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