New Scientific Study: Dogs Improve Social Skills for Children with Autism

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Results of HABRI-Funded Study Show Importance of Animal-Assisted Therapy

Green Chimneys-dog in social skills training

Findings demonstrate that incorporating therapy dogs in social skills training is a valid approach to teaching children with ASD to engage with peers and improve social interaction.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Green Chimneys announced the publication of a study exploring the effectiveness of an animal-assisted social skills intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Research was conducted at Green Chimneys, a therapeutic school and treatment center for children facing social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. Findings demonstrate that incorporating therapy dogs in social skills training is a valid approach to teaching children with ASD to engage with peers and improve social interaction.

“Not only do dogs appear to have a positive effect on children’s emotional states, but they can also be motivating factors that encourage social interaction and involvement,” said Dr. Joanna Becker, PhD, Sam and Myra Ross Institute Research Associate and the study’s principal investigator. “Animal-assisted interventions are a valid approach for teaching children with autism spectrum disorders the skills necessary to engage with peers, family members, and the larger community.”

Dr. Becker, 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.

Findings showed that the inclusion of dogs in social skills training was more effective than traditional programs. Specifically, 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.

“HABRI is proud to have partnered with Green Chimneys on this important research,” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “HABRI will continue to fund innovative projects that expand our knowledge of the human-animal bond and the remarkable power of companion animals to improve our health.”

“The value of partnership with organizations such as HABRI is the opportunity to add to the growing pool of data demonstrating the benefits of integrating animals into therapy,” said Dr. Steven Klee, Green Chimneys Associate Executive Director of Clinical & Medical Services.

Research Citation:
Becker, Joanna L., Rogers, Erica C., Burrows Bethany. “Animal-assisted Social Skills Training for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders” Anthrozoös 30.2 (2017): 307-326. Web. 17 May 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2017.1311055

About HABRI
HABRI is a not-for-profit organization that maintains the world’s largest online library of human-animal bond research and information; funds innovative research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals; and informs the public about human-animal bond research and the beneficial role of companion animals in society. For more information, please visit http://www.habri.org.

About Green Chimneys
Green Chimneys is a multi-faceted nonprofit organization helping young people to maximize their full potential by providing residential, educational, clinical and recreational services in a safe and supportive environment that nurtures connections with their families, the community, animals and nature. Services include an accredited special education school on two campuses, residential treatment center, animal-assisted and nature-based therapeutic programs, public education and recreation programs, and community-based support for youth and families. All research is conducted under The Sam and Myra Ross Institute which serves to facilitate understanding, education and medical recognition of the significant influence of nature-based therapies, education and interactions. http://www.greenchimneys.org

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