A physiotherapist has found a unique way to help disabled children improve their strength – by teaching them to swim with wild dolphins.
Igor Simões Andrade, from Brazil, started the programme called ‘bototherapy’ in 2006, where he takes children with physical and mental disabilities swimming with wild pink dolphins in the Amazon river.
Dad-of-one Igor works with kids with various conditions such as Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy.
To date, he has helped more than 600 children for free.
Many of the kids, who have lost limbs, are unable to move much at all when they start working with Igor.
But swimming with the dolphins allows the children to mirror the mammals, helping them to improve their movement on dry land too.
The wild pink dolphins, known as ‘botos’ are familiar with Igor and always swim towards him because of a trick he uses to attract them.
‘I have been swimming here with them for the past 15 years so the dolphins know me,’ he explains.
‘I play with them and throw a ball for them to bring back, it’s a fun game for them and they are used to me now and always want to play.
‘The kids parents are very grateful.’
It’s not just about helping them move though, Igor also uses the opportunity to teach the children about the environment.
‘I teach the children about the dolphins and their environment so they learn to respect them. I say, “We are going into their environment and they have been here for 15 million years”.
‘They are such incredible creatures, you can see how they make the children’s eyes light up, it’s really amazing.
‘There is a beautiful bond between the dolphins and the children, they are truly friends. Nobody forces the dolphins to be there, they are wild and play with the children on their own accord.’
Some of the children that Igor works with have gone from being being full-time wheelchair users to taking steps unaided because of the physical benefits of the therapy, as well as the confidence swimming with dolphins brings them.
Since he started the therapy 13 years ago, he’s helped hundreds of children with severe disabilities whose parents couldn’t afford for them to have traditional physiotherapy.
Igor, who has studied veterinary science, embarked on animal-assisted therapy after spending time with horses and dolphins.
He added: ‘My work is based on trust, confidence and therapeutic resources, which come from physiotherapy, Rolfing (like a deep-tissue massage) and animal-assisted therapy.
‘When I came to the Amazon, I saw the potential to develop the project of pink dolphins therapy.’
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