In spite of the expense, the hassle, the mess and the heartbreak when their four-legged friends pass away, animal lovers are willing to sacrifice their savings and spare time in the interest of pet ownership. These pets provide constant entertainment, of course, but their true value lies in the therapeutic benefits they offer for otherwise stressed and anxious humans.

Researchers at Green Chimneys are well aware of the therapeutic nature of pet ownership and, as such, have sought the help of sheep, horses, dogs and other animals in hopes of improving the physical and mental functioning of disabled individuals. Although these animals have a documented therapeutic effect on those diagnosed with a wide array of disabilities, their impact on autistic children and adults is still unclear. Researchers are eager to change this, and as such, have embarked on a targeted study examining the effects of certified therapy dogs on groups of autistic children.

Although plenty of anecdotes are available to explain how therapy dogs can benefit children with autism, Sam and Myra Ross Institute director Michael Kaufmann points to a lack of quantifiable data backing up what animal lovers have long intuitively recognized. In order to obtain this necessary data, the Sam and Myra Ross Institute is conducting a 12-week experiment, in which 32 students with autism were asked to attend either social skills seminars or therapy dogs sessions. This experiment was designed to determine whether one of these approaches would prove more effective for children with autism. Researchers also wanted to observe the effect dogs had on autistic children; would the animals help the student relax, or would they prove distracting?

Although researchers are still waiting to see which type of therapy is most effective, they’ve already noticed that children are far more interested in spending time with therapy dogs, as opposed to attending standard social skills classes. This alone could be seen as a huge argument in favor of therapy dog sessions, as enthusiastic children are far more likely to benefit from therapy than those displaying a clear lack of interest.

In addition to adding an element of excitement to otherwise standard therapy sessions, researchers hope that dogs will serve as a bridge between students and therapists. This effective form of motivation may, in addition to calming students, improve their ability to retain the skills and knowledge gained while attending social skills courses.

The field of animal assisted therapy is still in its early stages; researchers acknowledge that they have a long way to go in understanding how, exactly, animals impact disabled individuals. However, they hope that the current Sam and Myra Ross Institute study will give them a head start on this challenging endeavor. After the experiment is complete, results will be published and shared with other organizations aimed at helping individuals on the autistic spectrum. The ultimate goal is to make autism treatment more effective with the help of certified therapy dogs, all while offering disabled individuals an excellent source of companionship.

Last Updated on November 29, 2021

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