BGSU graduate student turns therapy into center for academic study | Community

A Bowling Green State University graduate student’s simple idea for a fundraiser is to create a public good while changing the lives of people living with autism.

When Aaron Witt was in high school, he was part of an organization that brainstormed reward ideas at a fundraiser for the school. His family had recently adopted a puppy, so he suggested that the top performing classes win a dog visit.

The idea was a hit with students and teachers. Now it’s at the center of Witt’s nonprofit success story, his academic research as a master’s candidate in speech-language pathology in BGSU’s speech-language pathology program and the source of a $1,000 scholarship. $ he received from the Ohio School Speech Pathology Educational Audiology Coalition.

“From there, we saw the impact it had,” Witt said. “A lot of other teachers were like, ‘That would be great for my kids,’ and I’ve always been a big dog who’s been around the world of speech and special education, so it was really combining the two in a more structured idea.

During his undergraduate studies, Witt started an organization called Dogs for Difference, which uses four-legged friends in a clinical setting with special education students. The organization, now registered as a nonprofit, continued during Witt’s time at BGSU, during which he took some of his anecdotal experience and turned it into quantifiable research.

Under the guidance of Tim Brackenbury, Witt turned the idea into a thesis titled “Augmenting the Expressive Language of an Autistic Child Using Animal-Assisted Therapy,” a case study in which he measured speaking during sessions with a student on the autism spectrum in the absence and presence of a dog.

Through his non-profit organization, Witt kept noticing that the presence of dogs really made a difference to children, who were almost always thrilled to see the dog and earn rewards like giving treats or making walks – inspiring Witt to apply the idea to speech. therapeutic study.

“Through Dogs for Difference, I really saw how dogs can impact children differently, whether emotionally, socially, or mentally,” Witt said. “It was anecdotal evidence, but you could see from week to week that these kids would talk more when there was a dog around. I started to think it would be a really good study and might give some factual evidence what I was seeing that dogs could really impact kids and help them talk more.

Brackenbury said Witt entered the program with useful experience, but showed an interest in broadening his scope of research, providing more opportunities after graduation.

“There’s a lot you can do with that degree, so Aaron can stick with the kids, but he can do animal-assisted therapy and try it with people who stutter or adults with other issues. communications,” Brackenbury said. “Even though Aaron didn’t come with research expertise, he did a great job of learning, being open to learning and using what he learned in his research.”

Donna Colcord, clinical director of BGSU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, said Witt has shown an ability to work in a wide range of clinical settings.

“Early on, we identified Aaron as someone who had experience working with people and demonstrated the caring, attentive skills that are needed in our field,” Colcord said. “He’s had many clinical assignments, so he’s worked with everyone from young pediatric clients to geriatrics. When he finishes his studies, he will certainly be able to work as a speech therapist in any setting and at any age, and he will do very well. His experience using animal-assisted therapy when working with children will allow him to be successful in any setting.

Witt works in a field internship with Maumee City Schools as part of her clinical experience at BGSU.

Although he’s not totally set on what he will do after graduation, Witt said he loves the school setting, plans to continue the nonprofit in some capacity, and is grateful for the experience he had with BGSU’s speech therapy program. .

“Everyone was really encouraging, and Dr. Brackenbury helped me figure it out from a speech therapy lens,” Witt said. “It was a really good experience because I’m really passionate about speech therapy and that part of my life, but the 501(c)(3) has also been a big part of my life, so having support under both angles has been huge for me at BG.

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