A 23-year-old woman with autism has formed a special bond with a donkey.

Devon-based Emily has limited vision and hearing, making communication difficult for her, but a miniature donkey named Juniper has helped her make a connection to the world.

Emily can struggle to control her emotions and at times becomes very distressed and confused, but since coming to the Donkey Sanctuary, she has developed critical life skills.

Last year Emily had a particularly difficult year after injuring her leg in an accident. Confined to a wheelchair while her leg was healing, she became withdrawn and frustrated.

The Donkey Sanctuary offers donkey-facilitated learning sessions. The sessions bring people and donkeys together, and provide opportunities for emotional connection, social interaction, communication and confidence building.

When Emily first visited the Donkey Sanctuary to take part in the interaction sessions she was not interested in the animals, but this soon changed.

“The staff and donkeys were patient and understanding, and gradually Emily started to feel more positive and engaged with the activities,” said Emily’s mother Melissa.

Emily’s sessions with Juniper helped her relax, and she enjoyed spending time with and grooming him. After her accident, when she needed to build up strength and confidence, Juniper helped her recovery as she was motivated to walk with him around the arena.

“Emily was so locked in before we started and being close to the donkeys really tunes her into herself and the world around her,” said Melissa.

“She is always calm and grounded and after her visits the positive effects can last for days. She is ‘feeling’ her emotions more now, and starting to understand them.”

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Emily giggles and talks to Juniper, always saying ‘goodbye Juniper’ at the end of her sessions. Melissa added that the sessions have helped Emily’s communication and she now even interacts with her dogs at home, whereas before she would not.

“As social creatures donkeys are very aware of their environment and the people within it,” added Caron Whaley, director of donkey-assisted therapy at The Donkey Sanctuary.

“I have witnessed sessions where people that may struggle to communicate or connect emotionally with another human somehow seem to be able to connect with our donkeys.”

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