Effect of Animal-Assisted Play Therapy on Facilitating Social Behavior for Children with Autism: A Preliminary Comparison Study

Suk Chun Fung, Ed.D
The Hong Kong Institute of Education; Department of Special Education and Counselling

Despite evidence that Animal-Assisted Play Therapy increases the positive social behavior of children with autism, little is known about the mechanism of this treatment effect. In the present study, ten children with autism, aged 7-10, were randomized into two groups. One group attended 14 individual sessions of structured Animal-Assisted Play Therapy (AAPT) with a therapy dog, while the comparison group attended 14 individual sessions with a doll as the dog surrogate. Nonparametric tests showed that overall, children’s social behaviors were similar in the two treatments, with a trend toward more positive verbal behavior with AAPT. However, the AAPT group showed significantly less negative behavior toward the social object (the therapy dog) compared with the comparison group’s behavior toward the doll. The therapy dog’s unambiguous response to the children’s behavior and the dog’s role in modeling social behaviors are possible explanations for the more positive outcomes seen in AAPT.

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