A recent study has shown that autistic children who take part in therapies involving animals, particularly dogs, tend to be more relaxed and have a better ability to concentrate. Furthermore, introducing children to dogs can potentially improve a child’s socialization and ability to express themselves.
Researchers at Green Chimneys in Brewster, NY, have analyzed how the use of various animals can play therapeutic roles for individuals with autism, as well as those with other disabilities or disorders. At the Sam and Myra Ross Institute at Green Chimneys, researchers have looked at how groups of autistic children react when certified therapy dogs are incorporated into their therapy sessions. According to the researchers, animals, particularly many breeds of dogs, can serve as a bridge between the therapist and the child. Michael Kaufman, the institute’s director, states, “Intuitively and anecdotally, we can see how contact with animals works.” He continues, “What we don’t have is the date and quantifiable evidence.”
As a result, the institute has conducted a 12-week experiment that focuses on finding the ways in which the presence of animals, particularly dogs, have an effect on those on the spectrum. Over thirty students at Green Chimneys, who range between the ages of 8 and 15, where broken into four groups. Each week, two of the groups attended traditional therapy sessions that focused on their social skills, while the other two groups attended sessions that incorporated therapy dogs.
Lead researcher and clinical psychologist Erica Rogers analyzed how the groups differed, focusing on the difference in concentration and if dogs were either a distraction or an assistance to the therapy session. Thus far, the dogs have shown to improve expression in the children, and “they are certainly more excited to go to group therapy”, Rogers states. This alone may prove to be a huge benefit, as kids who are more eager to attend therapy will be more open to the experience and will find more fulfillment out of the session.
Michael Kaufman states, “The field of animal assisted therapy is about 30 years old. [But] in terms of data, it’s in its infancy.” As a result, Rogers and her team will continue to focus on this study throughout the remainder of the year. All findings will be published.
This study is just one instance of incorporating animals into therapy sessions. For example, the TherapeuticEquestrianCenter in Cold Spring uses horses for those with autism, as it helps them focus and calms them down. In addition, Guiding Eyes is an organization that trains dogs to partner with a child with autism. Many children, as well as individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum, have seen great benefits from incorporating animals into their lives; not only can they provide excitement and joy, but they can allow certain abilities to grow, such as socialization and expression.