Service, therapy and emotional support animals: What’s the difference?

Posted June 13th, 2018 by

When it comes to living with a chronic condition, animal companions can add another layer of comfort, safety and service. So, we’re opening up a conversation about therapy, emotional support and service animals, and the differences between them. Do you have an animal? Join the community and share a pic of your pet using the hashtag #PLMPets.

Service animals

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability”. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals.

Examples of work tasks might be things like:

  • Helping individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation
  • Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds
  • Helping individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors
  • Check out more tasks here.

If you bring your service animal somewhere, any public entity or private business is allowed to ask you two questions to make sure your animal is indeed a service animal:

  1. Is this animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?

The ADA does not require service animals to be professionally trained. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program. State and federal laws differ, so make sure to check out your state’s laws on service animals.

To learn more about service animals and the ADA, check out this resource.

Therapy animals

A therapy animal is a pet that has been trained to interact with many people other than its handler to make those people feel better. Therapy animals often visit patients and residents of facilities like hospitals and nursing homes to cheer up the people living there.Therapy animals and their handlers are not given public access rights like those of service dogs and their owners, because the handler does not always have a disability the dog is individually trained to mitigate. Therapy animal handlers also generally get prior agreement from facilities like hospitals or libraries before visiting.

Some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take therapy and emotional support animals into public places — it’s important to check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.

Emotional support animals

These animals provide companionship and can help with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, but don’t need to have any special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. While emotional support animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan to provide therapy to their owners, they’re not considered service animals under the ADA.

If you’re living in the United States and suffer from emotional or mental health conditions, in order to qualify for emotional support animals (ESA) all you need is an official letter written by a licensed mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, licensed clinical social worker, or psychologist. It is required that you must be living with an “emotional or mental disability that is certified by a mental health professional” to receive such a letter.

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Discussing your health condition with kids? 5 handy resources

Posted June 12th, 2018 by

With Father’s Day coming up this weekend, parenting is on our minds. Do you talk about your health with your kids, and how do you go about it? Read on to see where to get pointers as a parent living with cancer, a mental health condition or chronic illness.

5 sites or articles to bookmark

Every situation and child is different, but the following resources may come in handy before your heart-to-heart.

  • Wonders & Worries’ Illness Discussion Tips – “Honesty is your best asset,” explains Wonders & Worries, an organization that provides support to children whose parents are facing chronic or serious illnesses. Their detailed guide recommends providing “accurate information that is appropriate for your child’s developmental level related to the illness and its treatment.” For example, say the name of your disease when talking with your child (who’s likely to overhear it eventually) and keep kids (and their school) informed about your current medical status and what it’ll mean for your routine, such as: “Nana will pick you up from school this week.”
  • Michigan Health’s “What Kids of Different Ages Understand” – This article is specifically geared toward parents with cancer, but it has some tips that can be helpful for people with various health conditions. The “Children’s perspectives” section explains what children typically understand at different ages. Babies and toddlers may not comprehend a serious illness like cancer, but can pick up on worries or sadness and changes in routine. School-age children (5-11 years) may have heard untrue information (like “cancer is contagious”) or experience “magical thinking” (e.g. – “Mom’s cancer is because of something I did.”). Tweens and teens may be tempted to turn to “Dr. Google” and get misinformation if you don’t fill them in.
  • Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s “Talking with Children About Cancer” – This guide offers more information about sharing a cancer diagnosis with your kids. Some of the main takeaways? Take a bit of time to prepare yourself for the discussion but don’t wait too long or follow a script. It’s healthy to acknowledge your own feelings, like: “This is all new to me, too, and I feel worried and sad right now. But we will get through this together, and I will feel better sometime soon.” Also, don’t expect perfection. “There is no ‘perfect’ way to have this conversation. You may burst into tears before saying a word, or snap at your partner for telling your kids to ‘behave,’ or cringe when your son makes light of the whole conversation. Forgive quickly. This is a tough time for everyone.”
  • AACAP’s “Talking to Kids About Mental Illnesses” – The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that parents (with or without mental health conditions) can help prevent stigma and stereotypes by discussing these conditions. “When explaining to a child about how a mental illness affects a person, it may be helpful to make a comparison to a physical illness. For example, many people get sick with a cold or the flu, but only a few get really sick with something serious like pneumonia. People who have a cold are usually able to do their normal activities. However, if they get pneumonia, they will have to take medicine and may have to go to the hospital. Similarly, feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, irritability, or sleep problems are common for most people. However, when these feelings get very strong, last for a long period of time, and begin to interfere with school, work, and relationships, it may be a sign of a mental illness that requires treatment.” PsychCentral and The Mighty also have helpful ideas for informing and supporting kids.
  • PBS Parents’ Kid-Friendly Medical Dictionary – This glossary covers only some health-related lingo (mostly related to illnesses kids might encounter themselves). But it gives a sense of how to explain complex terms to curious kids. “Kids think about their bodies in very visual, literal ways. Therefore, experts recommend parents answer medical questions using age-appropriate, simple, easy-to-visualize terms. Be brief and only tell your child what she needs to know, as too much information may overwhelm her. At the same time, respect your child’s intelligence and try not to dumb ideas down. It is useful to explain both what a condition or illness is and how it’s treated.” You can also look for children’s books that can help explain cancermental health conditions, the human body and more.

On PatientsLikeMe, nearly 17,000 members include “parenting” as an interest on their profile. Join the community today to connect with fellow moms and dads, and log in to explore thousands of forum posts about parenting and topics tagged with “parenting.”

Have you talked about your diagnosis or condition with your kid(s) (or grandkids)? Any pointers or resources to add? Make a comment below or in the forum discussion!

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