Two original studies explored relationships between visual attention of children with ASD (candidates for receiving a service dog) and their behaviors during their first interaction with a service dog. The first study consisted in video behavioural analyses of 16 children with ASD interacting with a service dog. During the interaction with a service dog, the time children with ASD spent looking towards social items vs objects was associated with how they interacted with the service dog. The second study was exploratory (i.e. 6 children), using the same behavioural approach but coupled with eye-tracking data. The more children with ASD looked at both their parent and the evaluator, as opposed to inanimate items, the more they interacted with the service dog.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
It is important to specify that dogs used in the present study were not service dog per se, since they were not dogs matched and living with a child (Solomon et al., 2010; https://petpartners.org/learn/terminology/; https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm), but were dogs by the end of their training and on the edge of becoming service dogs. However, for the sake of clarity, we will label them as service dogs in the rest of the manuscript.
Altmann, J. (1974). Observational study of behavior: Sampling methods. Behaviour, 49(3–4), 227–266.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5VR). Author.
Amestoy, A. (2013). La perception des visages dans la population typique et les Troubles du Spectre Autistique (TSA) (Doctoral dissertation, University of Bordeaux 2).
Asada, K., Tojo, Y., Osanai, H., Saito, A., Hasegawa, T., & Kumagaya, S. (2016). Reduced personal space in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. PLoS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0146306
Ben-Sasson, A., Hen, L., Fluss, R., Cermak, S. A., Engel-Yeger, B., & Gal, E. (2009). A meta-analysis of sensory modulation symptoms in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(1), 1–11.
Blake, R., Turner, L. M., Smoski, M. J., Pozdol, S. L., & Stone, W. L. (2003). Visual recognition of biological motion is impaired in children with autism. Psychological Science, 14, 151–157.
Boonen, H., van Esch, L., Lambrechts, G., Maljaars, J., Zink, I., Van Leeuwen, K., & Noens, I. (2015). Mothers’ parenting behaviors in families of school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder: An observational and questionnaire study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(11), 3580–3593.
Bogdashina, O., & Casanova, M. (2016). Sensory perceptual issues in autism and Asperger syndrome (2nd ed.). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Burgoon, J. K., Guerrero, L. K., & Manusov, V. (2016). Nonverbal communication. Routledge.
Byström, K. M., & Persson, C. A. L. (2015). The Meaning of companion animals for children and adolescents with autism: The parents’ perspective. Anthrozoös, 28, 263–275.
Carlisle, G. K. (2012). Pet dog ownership in families of children with autism: children’s social skills and attachment to their dogs.
Carlisle, G. K. (2014a). Pet dog ownership decisions for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Pediatric Nursing., 29, 114–123.
Carlisle, G. K. (2014b). The social skills and attachment to dogs of children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders., 45, 1137–1145.
Celani, G. (2002). Human beings, animals and inanimate objects: What do people with autism like? Autism, 6, 93–102.
Cross, L., Farha, M., & Atherton, G. (2019). the animal in me: Enhancing emotion recognition in adolescents with autism using animal filters. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(11), 4482–4487.
Davis, B. W., Nattrass, K., O’Brien, S., Patronek, G., & MacCollin, M. (2004). Assistance dog placement in the pediatric population: Benefits, risks, and recommendations for future application. Anthrozoös, 17(2), 130–145.
Dawson, G., Meltzoff, A. N., Osterling, J., Rinaldi, J., & Brown, E. (1998). Children with autism fail to orient to naturally occurring social stimuli. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28(6), 479–485.
Dawson, G., Osterling, J., Meltzoff, A. N., & Kuhl, P. (2000). Case study of the development of an infant with autism from birth to two years of age. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21(3), 299–313.
Deleau M. (1999) Psychologie du Développement. Editions Bréal.
Dollion, N., Grandgeorge M., Trudel M., Champagne N., Saint-Pierre N. Contribution of severity of autism and age on dog attraction to children with autism spectrum disorder. INSAR 2019 Annual Meeting, May 2019, Montréal, Canada.
Dollion, N., Herbin, A., Champagne, N., Plusquellec, P., & Grandgeorge, M. (submitted). Characterization of children with ASD’s interaction during first encounter with a service dog: An ethological approach.
Eckerlin, A., Filiatre, J.C., Millot, J.L., Montagner, H. (1989) Ethological approach to the acoustic cues in the relational systems between the child and his pet dog. In 5th International Conference of the Relationships between Humans and Animals (Monaco, France).
Filiatre, J. C., Millot, J. L., & Montagner, H. (1986). New data on communication behavior between the young-child and his pet dog. Behavioural Processes, 12, 33–44.
Gepner, B., & Féron, F. (2009). Autism: A world changing too fast for a mis-wired brain? Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews., 33, 1227–1242.
Gessaroli, E., Santelli, E., di Pellegrino, G., & Frassinetti, F. (2013). Personal space regulation in childhood autism spectrum disorders. PLoS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0074959
Grandgeorge, M., Deleau, M., Lemonnier, E., & Hausberger, M. (2011). The strange animal situation test. Anthrozoös, 24(4), 393–408.
Grandgeorge, M., Deleau, M., Lemonnier, E., Tordjman, S., & Hausberger, M. (2012a). Children with autism encounter an unfamiliar pet: Application of the Strange Animal Situation test. Interaction Studies, 13, 165–188.
Grandgeorge, M., Tordjman, S., Lazartigues, A., Lemonnier, E., Deleau, M., & Hausberger, M. (2012). Does pet arrival trigger prosocial behaviors in individuals with autism? PLoS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0041739
Grandgeorge, M., Bourreau, Y., Alavi, Z., Lemonnier, E., Tordjman, S., Deleau, M., & Hausberger, M. (2014). Interest towards human, animal and object in children with autism spectrum disorders: An ethological approach at home. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 24, 83–93.
Grandgeorge, M., Degrez, C., Alavi, Z., & Lemonnier, E. (2016). Face processing of animal and human static stimuli in children with autistic spectrum disorder. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, 4(2), 39–53.
Grandgeorge, M., Gautier, Y., Brugaillères, P., Tiercelin, I., Jacq, C., Lebret, M. C., & Hausberger, M. (2017). Social rivalry triggers visual attention in children with autism spectrum disorders. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 1–8.
Grandgeorge, M., Gautier, Y., Bourreau, Y., Mossu, H., & Hausberger, M. (2020). Visual attention patterns differ in dog vs. cat interactions with children with typical development or autism spectrum disorders. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02047
Grandin, T. (1995). How people with autism think. In E. Schopler & G. B. Mesibov (Eds.), Learning and cognition in autism (pp. 137–156). Springer.
Hart, L. A., Thigpen, A. P., Willits, N. H., Lyons, L. A., Hertz-Picciotto, I., & Hart, B. L. (2018). Affectionate interactions of cats with children having autism spectrum disorder. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 5, 39.
Jones, W., Carr, K., & Klin, A. (2008). Absence of preferential looking to the eyes of approaching adults predicts level of social disability in 2-year-old toddlers with autism spectrum disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 65(8), 946–954.
Kaliukhovich, D. A., Manyakov, N. V., Bangerter, A., Ness, S., Skalkin, A., Goodwin, M. S., Dawson, G., Hendren, R. L., Leventhal, B., Hudac, C. M., Bradshaw, J., Shic, F., & Pandina, G. (2020). Social attention to activities in children and adults with autism spectrum disorder: effects of context and age. Molecular autism, 11(1), 1–14.
Katcher, A. H. (1981). Interactions between people and their pets: form and function. In B. Fogle (Ed.), Interrelations between people and pets (pp. 41–67). Springfield: Charles C. Thomas.
Katcher, A. H., Goodman, L., & Friedmann, E. (1979). Human-pet interaction. American Zoologist, 19(3), 914.
Kidd, A. H., & Kidd, R. M. (1987). Reactions of infants and toddlers to live and toy animals. Psychological Reports, 61, 455–464.
Klin, A., Sparrow, S. S., De Bildt, A., Cicchetti, D. V., Cohen, D. J., & Volkmar, F. R. (1999). A normed study of face recognition in autism and related disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29(6), 499–508.
Klin, A., Jones, W., Schultz, R., Volkmar, F., & Cohen, D. (2002). Visual fixation patterns during viewing of naturalistic social situations as predictors of social competence in individuals with autism. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59(9), 809–816.
Leslie, A. M. (1994). ToMM, ToBY, and agency: Core architecture and domain specificity. In L. A. Hirschfeld & S. A. Gelman (Eds.), Mapping the mind domain specificity in cognition and culture (pp. 119–148). Cambridge University Press.
Martin, F., & Farnum, J. (2002). Animal-assisted therapy for children with pervasive developmental disorders. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 24(6), 657–670.
Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS). (2019). Effets des chiens d’assistance et des animaux de compagnie chez les personnes présentant un trouble du spectre de l’autisme ou un trouble de stress post-traumatique. Report written by Isabelle Linteau, Marie-Hélène Raymond and Chloé Gaumont. INESSS, 99 p.
Maurer, M., Delfour, F., Trudel, M., & Adrien, J.-L. (2011). L’enfant avec un autisme et l’animal dans un lien signifiant : Des possibilités d’interventions thérapeutiques. Psychiatrie De L’ Enfant, 54, 575–609.
Melson, G. F. (1991). Studying children’s attachment to their pets: A conceptual and methodological review. Anthrozoös, 4, 91–99.
Mertens, C., & Turner, D. C. (1988). Experimental analysis of human-cat interactions during first encounters. Anthrozoös, 2, 83–97.
Mottron, L., Burack, J. A. (2012). Sensory, motor and attention characteristics of autistic children. In: Tremblay, R. E., Boivin, M., Peters, R. V, (Eds.) Elsabbagh, M., Clarke, M. E. (topic Eds.) Encyclopedia on early childhood development [online]. http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/autism/according-experts/sensory-motor-and-attention-characteristicsautistic-children
Muszkat, M., Berlim de Mello, C., de Oliveira Lima Munoz, P., Kiehl Lucci, T., David, V. F., de Oliveira Siqueira, J., & Otta, E. (2015). Face scanning in autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: human versus dog face scanning. Frontiers in Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2015.00150
New, J. J., Schultz, R. T., Wolf, J., Niehaus, J. L., Klin, A., German, T. C., & Scholl, B. J. (2010). The scope of social attention deficits in autism: Prioritized orienting to people and animals in static natural scenes. Neuropsychologia, 48, 51–59.
O’Connor, K., & Kirk, I. (2008). Brief report: Atypical social cognition and social behaviours in autism spectrum disorder: A different way of processing rather than an impairment. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(10), 1989–1997.
O’Haire, M. E., Guérin, N. A., Kirkham, A. C., & Daigle, C. L. (2015). Animal-assisted intervention for autism spectrum disorder. HABRI Central Briefs, 1(6), e1-8.
O’Haire, M. E. (2017). Research on animal-assisted intervention and autism spectrum disorder, 2012–2015. Applied Developmental Science, 21(3), 200–216.
Osterling, J., & Dawson, G. (1994). Early recognition of children with autism: A study of first birthday home videotapes. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders., 24, 247–257.
Papagiannopoulou, E. A., Chitty, K. M., Hermens, D. F., Hickie, I. B., & Lagopoulos, J. (2014). A systematic review and meta-analysis of eye-tracking studies in children with autism spectrum disorders. Social Neuroscience, 9(6), 610–632.
Planche, P. (2010). La réaction à la nouveauté : Un indice de dépistage précoce de l’autisme ? Annales Médico-Psychologiques, Revue Psychiatrique, 168(8), 578–583.
Philippe-Peyroutet, C., & Grandgeorge, M. (2018). Animal-assisted interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders: A survey of French facilities. People and Animals: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 1(1), 8.
Prothmann, A., Albrecht, K., Dietrich, S., Hornfeck, U., Stieber, S., & Ettrich, C. (2005). Analysis of child—Dog play behavior in child psychiatry. Anthrozoös, 18, 43–58.
Prothmann, A., Ettrich, C., & Prothmann, S. (2009). Preference for, and responsiveness to, people, dogs and objects in children with autism. Anthrozoös, 22, 161–171.
Prochazkova, E., & Kret, M. E. (2017). Connecting minds and sharing emotions through mimicry: A neurocognitive model of emotional contagion. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 80, 99–114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.05.013
Racca, A., Guo, K., Meints, K., & Mills, D. S. (2012). Reading faces: differential lateral gaze bias in processing canine and human facial expressions in dogs and 4-year-old children. PLoS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0036076
Redefer, L. A., & Goodman, J. F. (1989). Brief report: Pet-facilitated therapy with autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19(3), 461–467.
Riby, D. M., & Hancock, P. J. B. (2008). Viewing it differently: Social scene perception in Williams syndrome and Autism. Neuropsychologia, 46(11), 2855–2860.
Rogers, S. J., & Pennington, B. F. (1991). A theoretical approach to the deficits in infantile autism. Development and Psychopathology, 3(2), 137–162.
Rost, D. H., & Hartmann, A. H. (1994). Children and their pets. Anthrozoös, 7, 242–254.
Schopler, E., Reichler, E. J., DeVellis, R. F., & Daly, K. (1980). Toward objective classification of childhood autism: Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 10(1), 91–103.
Spezio, M. L., Adolphs, R., Hurley, R. S., & Piven, J. (2007). Abnormal use of facial information in high-functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(5), 929–939.
Talarovičová, A., Olexová, L., & Kršková, L. (2010). Guinea pigs—The “small great” therapist for autistic children, or: Do guinea pigs have positive effects on autistic child social behavior? Society & Animals, 18(2), 139–151.
Valiyamattam, G. J., Katti, H., Chaganti, V. K., O’Haire, M. E., & Sachdeva, V. (2020). Do animals engage greater social attention in autism? An eye tracking analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 727.
Viau, R., Arsenault-Lapierre, G., Fecteau, S., Champagne, N., Walker, C. D., & Lupien, S. (2010). Effect of service dogs on salivary cortisol secretion in autistic children. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35(8), 1187–1193.
Walther, S., Yamamoto, M., Thigpen, A. P., Garcia, A., Willits, N. H., & Hart, L. A. (2017). Assistance dogs: Historic patterns and roles of dogs placed by ADI or IGDF accredited facilities and by non-accredited US facilities. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 4(1), 1–14.
Wing, L., & Gould, J. (1979). Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: Epidemiology and classification. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders., 9, 11–29.
Winnicott, D. W. (1986). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. In P. Buckley (Ed.), Essential papers on object relations (pp. 254–271). NewYork University Press.
We are very grateful to the Mira Foundation (Québec) and the EthoS laboratory (France) for their material and logistical support as well as to Adrienne & Pierre Sommer Foundation and Mitacs for their financial support. We are very grateful to Véronique Guyot for her statistical help and Ann Cloarec for English proofreading. We owe special thanks to Eric Saint-Pierre, creator of the Mira Foundation, and Nicolas Saint-Pierre, general director of the Mira Foundation, who allowed us to have access to their facilities and made the present study possible. We gratefully thank Alexandre Herbin for his previous work at the Mira Foundation. We gratefully thank all the psychoeducators (Sandrine Larivière, Charlotte Moses Belanger, Isabelle Chauvin) and all the staff at the Mira Foundation for helping us to conduct this research, for their cooperation, and for their work. Finally, we thank all the families and children with ASD for their participation in this study as well as all the dogs.
The project leading to these results received financial support from Adrienne & Pierre Sommer Foundation. It benefited also from a postdoctoral grant by the Mitacs Elevation program (IT 10105). It also received material and logistical support from the Mira Foundation (Québec) and the EthoS laboratory (France).
Conflict of interest
The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare that are relevant to the content of this article.
Both these studies were observational, non-invasive, and did not involve pharmacological interventions for either the children with ASD or the service dogs. Both were performed in line with the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki and both study protocols received approval by the University of Montreal’s Research Ethics committee in Education and Psychology (Study 1: CERAS-2018–19-11-D; Study 2: CEREP-19–130-P).
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. All parents provided written consent to allow their child with ASD to participate in this study. All children with ASD also provided their verbal and written approval for their participation.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Dollion, N., Toutain, M., François, N. et al. Visual Exploration and Observation of Real-Life Interactions Between Children with ASD and Service Dogs. J Autism Dev Disord 51, 3785–3805 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-05293-1
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Visual attention
- Human–animal interaction
- Service dog