Interaction with a therapy dog enhances the effects of social story method in autistic children

Grigore, A. A., & Rusu, A. S. (2014). Interaction with a therapy dog enhances the effects of social story method in autistic children. Society & Animals, 22(3), 241-261.

Research Question: Practitioners working with autistic children have come to understand that while social impairment hinders children with ASD from interacting socially, these same children desire to be able to do so. In order to increase the necessary skills for successful social interaction of autistic children, the Social Story intervention was introduced and has had positive results in improving their interpersonal relationships. The question remains however, how the Social Story intervention could be improved. This study investigates the potential for a social environment enriched by the presence of a therapy dog in improving the effectiveness of the Social Story method.

Sample: Data collected from studies conducted with three preschool children (ages 7-8 years old) who were enrolled at the Daily Center of the Autism Transylvania Association in Romania.  Each child was selected based on their previous diagnosis of autism, their lack in ability to initiate a conversation without a pet therapy team present, having some reading prerequisites and both the therapist’s and child’s willingness to interact. One child was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism while the other two were diagnosed with moderate autism.

Methodology:  Each of the three single-case experiments consisted of six sessions (either ABAC or ACAB design for counterbalance) in which each child was observed during social interactions that required the use of social skills (A) and after the Social Story intervention (B) or the Social Story plus Animal Assisted Therapy intervention (C). Sessions were video-taped for later analysis. Data were analyzed using SPSS version 16, descriptive statistics and the mann-Whitney U test to analyze the difference between the baseline and the interventions and between the two types of interventions.

Findings: There was an overall increase in level of social abilities of autistic children when the Social Story intervention was provided with Animal Assisted Therapy. That being said, there was variation in improvement with the child tested as mild to moderate autism showing the most positive results. This study suggests that Animal Assisted Therapy can bring social improvements by increasing the frequency of social initiations and by decreasing the level of social prompt that the autistic children usually need to perform social interactions.

Limitation: Although qualitative in nature, the research had a small sample to analyze with only  three children observed. Furthermore, as stated by the authors themselves, the intervention program did not include a study of results without the Social Story intervention but with only Animal Assisted Therapy. Would Animal Assisted Therapy alone have improved the social abilities or was the combination of the Social Story intervention and Animal Assisted Therapy intervention necessary.

Summary by Clementine Fujimura



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