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Animal Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parent perspectives

Abstract

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is an intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This study explores parent perspectives of the impact of five AAT sessions involving trained dogs with their children with ASD. A phenomenological qualitative approach was used to explore first-hand perspectives of parents. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Seventeen parents reported that the presence of the dogs facilitated their children’s engagement, enjoyment, and motivation. Parents also reported that this contributed to gains in the child’s communication with others and the dog (n = 11, 64.7%), behavioral regulation (n = 12, 70.6%), and community participation (n = 14, 82.3%). These findings indicate that parents supported the use of AAT and that dogs facilitated therapeutic gains.

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Acknowledgments

The study was supported by funding from Westfield to Assistance Dogs Australia to establish the animal assisted therapy program. The authors would like to thank all the parents who agreed to participate in the study. This study formed the basis of a research paper for Ms London which was peer reviewed.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by ML. The first draft of the manuscript was written by ML and all authors commented on subsequent versions of the manuscript and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lynette Mackenzie.

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Maeve Doyle London has now graduated and is resident in the US.

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London, M.D., Mackenzie, L., Lovarini, M. et al. Animal Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parent perspectives. J Autism Dev Disord 50, 4492–4503 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04512-5

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Keywords

  • Canine therapy
  • Dog therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Animal assisted intervention
  • Caregiver