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Autism. 2019 Oct;23(7):1740-1751. doi: 10.1177/1362361319827411. Epub 2019 Feb 28.

Animal-assisted activity improves social behaviors in psychiatrically hospitalized youth with autism.

Author information

1
1 University of Colorado, USA.
2
2 Children's Hospital Colorado, USA.
3
3 Purdue University, USA.

Abstract

There is preliminary research suggesting that animal-assisted activities can improve social interactions of children with autism spectrum disorder. This pilot study sought to investigate the benefits of animal-assisted activities with dogs and psychiatrically hospitalized youth with autism spectrum disorder. Participants were recruited from a specialized inpatient psychiatric hospital unit for youth with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. Utilizing a crossover design, participants served as their own control by engaging in two 10-min conditions: an experimental dog and handler interaction (animal-assisted activities) and a novel toy and handler control (control). Of the 142 youth aged 6--8 years screened for participation, 47 completed both conditions. Participants' behavioral data were captured via video and coded using the Observation of Human-Animal Interaction for Research, a tool specifically developed to capture human behavioral interactions in the presence of animals. Overall, social-communication behaviors significantly improved in the animal-assisted activities experimental condition compared to the control condition (p = 0.0001). Specifically, participants in the animal-assisted activities experimental condition displayed more positive emotional facial expressions (p ⩽ 0.0001), talking (p = 0.0408), use of gestures (p = 0.032), and looking at both adults and peers (p ⩽ 0.0001). In addition, a higher frequency of constant motion (p = 0.003) was observed in the animal-assisted activities experimental condition. Results suggest that animal-assisted activities with a dog may promote social-communication behaviors in psychiatrically hospitalized youth with autism spectrum disorder. Given the fact that social and communication behaviors can facilitate treatment engagement for this population, we recommend future studies examine how such improvements can positively affect the psychiatric treatment of this population.

KEYWORDS:

animal-assisted activities; autism; communication; dogs; social behaviors

PMID:
30818971
DOI:
10.1177/1362361319827411

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