The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) recently announced the publication of a study that suggests that animal-assisted interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be effective for improving social skills.
The research was conducted by Green Chimneys, a therapeutic school and treatment center for children facing social, emotional and behavioral challenges. Dr. Joanna Becker, the study’s principal investigator, along with co-PIs Dr. Erica Rogers and Dr. Bethany Burrows, analyzed 31 Green Chimneys students ages 8-14 diagnosed with ASD and compared social and emotional functioning before and after the intervention. Students either participated in an animal-assisted social skills group or in a traditional social skills training group without an animal present.
Not only do dogs appear to have a positive effect on children’s emotional states, but they can aldo be motivating factors that encourage social interaction and involvement.
— Joanna Becker, Psychologist, Green Chimneys
The study’s results suggest that the inclusion of dogs in social skills training is more effective than traditional programs. Participants who received the animal-assisted social skills intervention exhibited fewer social skills deficits overall, fewer restricted and repetitive behaviors, and more typical social communication following the intervention. The study also found that participants who received the animal-assisted social skills intervention exhibited a greater level of change in social skills, perspective taking, theory of mind, and decreased feelings of isolation and depression.