Pawsitive Friendships Becomes Certified Autism Center

Nonprofit Helps Children Using Animal Assisted Therapy

Pawsitive Friendships of Gilbert, Arizona is the first organization of its kind in Arizona to have earned the Certified Autism Center designation™ (CAC). The CAC designation, granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), means that families with children on the autism spectrum and other sensory disorders can enjoy the best possible experience that caters to their needs.

Pawsitive Friendships is a not-for-profit organization that helps children with special needs achieve their personal goals through Animal Assisted Therapy. Providing a sensory-inclusive experience for children on the autism spectrum is paramount to the success Pawsitive Friendships has with their unique program. Completing the fully accredited Autism Certification program provided by IBCCES enables Pawsitive Friendships to ensure the best possible treatment for all of the children they serve.

They are joining an expanding group of organizations that are becoming certified as part of an initiative started by Visit Mesa to further that community’s goal to become the most autism inclusive in the world.

“As the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I, more than most, know and appreciate the importance of community awareness. Example: when you’re out in public and get ‘those looks’ from people who think your child is badly behaved and poorly disciplined,” said Tosha Tharp-Gaitanis founder/CEO of Pawsitive Friendships. “I was thrilled, therefore, to learn Mesa was working toward becoming the most inclusive city in the world; and as the Founder/CEO of Pawsitive Friendships, an autism certified organization, I celebrate this as both a triumph and an example for other cities to follow.”

Tharp-Gaitanis’s passion is her goal: to positively affect change in the lives of children like her son through the unconditional, non-judgmental love of dogs, together with the compassion of parents willing to “look outside the box.” Her therapy pig, Penelope, was awarded the 2019 HERO Award by The Arizona Pet Project for her service in the community with children who have special needs.

“While the practice of using animals for pet therapy has existed for years, the manner in which Pawsitive Friendships utilizes the animal and human interaction to gain the attention of our special needs students is unique,” said Julie Armstrong, Board Chair. “We are proud of our accomplishments and have looked forward to becoming an autism certified organization. In addition, working alongside other companies and organizations within the City of Mesa and Visit Mesa to continue our service mission.”

For almost 20 years, IBCCES has been the industry leader in cognitive disorder training and certification for healthcare, education and corporate professionals around the globe. IBCCES identified an unmet need in the travel and recreation industries for certified and trained organizations to be able to provide options for individuals with autism and other sensory needs, which has led to the recent Mesa community initiative through Visit Mesa and other key stakeholders. 

“We’re excited to have a therapeutic organization like Pawsitive Friendships enhance their commitment to individuals on the spectrum by becoming a Certified Autism Center™,” said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman. “We’re thrilled to have more options for families looking for a facility whose staff have completed a professional training and certification program.”



About Pawsitive Friendships

Pawsitive Friendships was founded by a mother whose son is on the Autism Spectrum. Her dog was helping him to make progress in therapy and she wanted to share that with more children. The mission of Pawsitive Friendships is to provide Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) to children with special needs, allowing them to build animal/human friendships while simultaneously working on their various therapy goals. Pawsitive Friendships is affiliated with clinics whose licensed therapists work one on one with each child, providing that child with individualized attention. As an organization, we recognize that while two children may share the same diagnosis, no two children’s goals are the same. Therefore, our services are specifically designed to allow each child to reach his or her desired goals.


Delivering The Global Standard For Training and Certification in The Field of Cognitive Disorders – IBCCES provides a series of certifications that empower professionals to be leaders in their field and improve the outcomes for the individuals they serve. These programs are the only training and certification programs endorsed by the largest grassroots autism organization in the world, The Autism Society of America, and recognized around the world as the leading benchmark for training and certification in the areas of autism and other cognitive disorders.


Pawsitive Friends

Tosha Tharp-Gaitanis, Founder/CEO

Phone: (480) 353-7833



Meredith Tekin, President
Phone: 904.508.0135 // 904.434.1534

Source: IBCCES


Categories: Autism

Tags: animal assisted therapy, animal therapy, autism, autism certified, autism friendly, certified autism center, sensory, sensory friendly, special needs

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