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Child Dev. 1989 Dec;60(6):1529-34.

Social acknowledegments for children with disabilities: effects of service dogs.

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  • 1Human-Animal Program, University of California, Davis.


While service dogs are known to perform important tasks for people using wheelchairs, such as retrieving dropped items or pulling a wheelchair, they may also serve as an antidote for social ostracism. Adults in wheelchairs have been found to receive many more social acknowledgements when a service dog is present than when not. This study examined whether disabled children in wheelchairs with service dogs receive more frequent social acknowledgment than when no dog is present. Behaviors of passersby in response to children in wheelchairs were recorded in shopping malls and on school playgrounds. In both settings, social acknowledegments (e.g., friendly glances, smiles, and conversations) were substantially more frequent when a service dog was present. Social effects of the dog were more pronounced in shopping malls, typical of unfamiliar settings where the child would be likely to experience being ignored or overlooked. Service dogs may assist in normalizing the social interactions for children with disabilities producing social isolation.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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