The Supportive Experience with the Aid of the Dolphins program takes place at the Dolphin Reef, Eilat in Israel. Dolphin Reef is situated in the southernmost tip of Israel in the Red Sea and opened its doors in 1990.
It is a tourist attraction by the desert with a private beach, including facilities such as a restaurant, bar, diving center, photo shop and souvenir shop, all surrounded by a botanical garden.
Human-dolphin interaction at the Dolphin Reef is based on the initiation of the dolphins. Those interactions in the water do not involve feeding, which is also not necessary, as we know dolphins are friendly and seek to approach people since ancient times. There is a mutual respect in these encounters; the people are the visitors in the sea, the dolphins home. This ability to choose gives the person who was chosen and approached by these dolphins a strong feeling.
The dolphins live in their natural habitat where they can have a rich social life. The group lives as a family, busy all day long with playing, fighting and courting each other. The females get pregnant and raise their offspring successfully, spending many hours fishing together. The dolphins choose to be near us, because it's their home, it's a place they feel good to be, to live as a family and with us. All these conditions - catching fish, living in nature - allow them to be mentally and physically healthy.
The program is called Supportive Experience with the Aid of the Dolphins instead of "therapy with" because we are not trying to cure or heal people but we are giving moral support. The aim of this program is to make children smile, make them feel better and be happier. To make the children calmer, and be able to sit, to accept the answer no, to open up to the environment and to improve communication. We want the children to improve their attention and concentration span. We work with children suffering from many different disorders and diseases:
cancer, behavioral problems, sexual abuse, Downs Syndrome, autism, ADD, ADHD, and all kinds of physical and mental retardation.
We work mainly with children, and we reached the conclusion that the age of the children that can benefit the most is between 6 to 16. It is a long-term program, in average the child comes for one and half years. We work all year round; the children keep on coming at the same times, 2 weeks every 2 months for a child coming from Europe, including 4 days of work every week. During the program, the children meet the dolphins in 2 ways, in the water for about 30 min, and on a platform for about 20 min.
In the sea:
The child enters the water with the trainer, wearing a wetsuit and snorkeling equipment, if possible - depending on the ability of the child to use it. Once in the sea nothing special is required from the child, just to enjoy being there, to float, to see the dolphins, to hold the trainer if necessary. We cannot promise that a dolphin will always come to greet a child.
If the dolphin does not come, the child is frustrated and angry and must to cope, like in real life. This is definitely a normal process. When the dolphin comes, he uses his sonar, to check on his surroundings, and the child hears it and feels it. The child enters a world of sounds, clicks and sonar; it is not a world of silence. As the dolphin arrives, the child feels that he is the chosen one, the one that the dolphin decided to come to - this warms the child's heart, raises his self-confidence and self-esteem. In time, the child learns to improve his swimming, he learns to use the mask and snorkel so he can watch the dolphins and follow them underwater. When the children go out, their reaction once out, is surprising. Some of them smile, some cannot stop talking about their experience, some are quiet, and there are even some who go to the shower and cry there. Its a kind of activity that activates emotions, feelings, the heart of those children.
On the platform:
The child goes to the platform on a boat, or by swimming, and sits with his feet in the water if he likes. The children can see and learn about the dolphins from a different angle. They can make eye contact, play, or touch with their meet. This is a cognitive task:
It is learning the individual signs required to recognize the dolphins - to see their features, like the nose, their ears and their teeth.
To learn to count how many times the dolphin brings back the ball that was thrown to him.
Some work on the fine and gross motor abilities:
Equilibrium while walking and sitting on the platform, rocking because of the waves.
To throw and catch a ball, to clap, to hold objects and give them to the dolphins.
To teach how to touch, to pet, not to grab or hold.
The child himself needs to make an effort; he has to be creative and active if he wants to make contact with the dolphins. When a child is not used to socializing, but he is motivated to do so for the dolphin, he opens up, and does new things.
The dolphins are giving of themselves freely and without any barrier, so the feeling is great for the children who experience it and for the parents who watch and share that feeling. The open and free game with the dolphins in the water and on the platform remind the children of beautiful moments in their childhood. The children can express themselves freely and it adds to their good feeling.
They feel chosen when the dolphins come to them and it brings a smile to their faces, it makes them happy.
All this raises their motivation, and suddenly they do things, they hold objects, they count, all kind of things they did not want or dare to do before. It increases their attention and concentration span, it calms them and they improve their communication skills. They experience success and it raises their self-esteem, and self-confidence.
At the end of each session, we have a short summary of what happened in the water, and on the platform. In that way, we hope the children will express their feelings, will think about what happened to them and remember the great moments.
There are some educational tasks: The children learn to work while helping the trainers in all kinds of duties, like cleaning and arranging things. The children learn to respect and be considerate of each other, they learn responsibility while we ask them to come on time, to finish tasks on time or to call when they are sick and cannot come.
There is an individual program for each child and his own needs, his character and his pace. When dealing with child with emotional problems, we will focus on being mostly in the sea; a child with motor problem, we will work on movement, with a hyperactive child we will also work more in the water. With ADD, learning difficulties, memory deficiency, we will work on cognitive tasks on the platform.
The person who works with the children is a dolphin trainer. The trainer is neither a psychologist, nor a therapist. His job is to mediate between the child and the dolphin. A trainer needs, first of all, to understand the dolphins just like anybody who works with animals. He needs to know them and to get close to them, before he is able to work with children. The trainer is used to communicate differently with the dolphins; he needs to be open and flexible, giving him the ability to be with children who do not communicate so well.
When the trainer and the child enter the sea, the dolphins come happily to the trainer because they know and love him, so before the dolphins know and come to the child, he can enjoy the immediate closeness with them. The trainer must know the dolphins very well and be able to anticipate their behaviors, in order to ensure building up the right interaction between him and the child. The trainer does it voluntarily; he does not have to do it. It is not a part of his job, so he does it with an open heart. The trainer needs to keep the dolphins' interest so they will stay.
The conditions in which the dolphins are living, and these human-dolphin interactions are what led the way to work on this program. The special human-dolphin interactions without any help of food, the dolphins' freedom to choose, and their love of people created our methods. Without any doubt, these animals are the therapists themselves.
If you are interested in registering your child for this program, please fill out the application forms.
For further information / application forms please call +972 8 6300100or send a fax to +972 8 6375921 to the attention of the main office.
The answer regarding accepting or not accepting your child will be sent only once a year in January- February.