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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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7.5 Evaluations of animal-assisted interventions

A recent scientific overview of animal-based interventions in autism, while recognising that they may be beneficial for some children, concluded that the evidence is as yet unclear. Interpretation of studies is complicated by factors such as small participant numbers, and variations in the animals, procedures, duration of therapy and outcome measures (O’Haire, 2013).

Activity 5 Considering animal-assisted interventions

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Draw on the interview with Arabella and the Research Autism website to note two arguments in favour of animal-based intervention and two against. You should look up Research Autism entries for equine and dolphin therapies and assistance dogs.

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Points in favour:

  1. Arabella suggests that contact with a cat helped Iris to overcome some sensory problems and other anxieties e.g. about travel.
  2. The good relationship between Thula and Iris provided important respite for her parents.

Points against:

  1. Some animal-based approaches such as swimming with dolphins could be harmful for the animal and harmful or frightening for the child.
  2. Some improvements attributed to an animal like Thula may have taken place anyway. Since supportive evidence is so far sparse, the expense and effort of animal-based intervention may not be justified.