William S. Pope
Auburn University School of Nursing, USA
William S. Pope holds a doctorate in ministry and nursing. He is the coordinator of the animal-assisted therapy program of Auburn University School of Nursing and president of CAREing Paws, an animal therapy group in East Alabama.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by defi cits in social reciprocity and communication, and by restricted, repetitive behaviors. Interventions based on the use of the human/animal bond have the potential to overcome the diffi culty of children with ASD to interact eff ectually with others targeting core symptoms of this disorder. Th is exploratory descriptive study analyzes the eff ects of designed activities on children with ASD with an emphasis on social behaviors, language, and fi ne motor skills. Th e study was guided by Brickel’s learning theory and the social mediation theory. Th e presence f a trained therapy animal, its unprompted behaviors, and its readiness for interaction may provide opportunities and benefi ts that would be impossible in its absence. Th e possible mechanisms responsible for the benefi cial eff ects observed are discussed. Aft er six weeks, an increase in social behavior, direct communication, attention span, and decreased anxiety. Th e purpose of this study is to improve the well-being of children with ASD as a whole and improve their quality of life using animal-assisted therapy. Conclusion: Although the results described here are encouraging, further research with better designs and using larger samples is needed to strengthen translation of such interventions to the clinic. In addition, potential applications of analyzing child-dog interactions are highlighted to screen for early signs of the disorder.