Fact or Fiction – Animal Therapy

Animal therapy is an increasingly popular treatment for autism. Many parents and caregivers say that their children enjoy animal therapy and that their children’s behavior improved with animal therapy. Here we discuss what animal therapy is and what the scientific literature says about animal therapy.

What is Animal Therapy?

Animal therapy is based on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Animal therapy has been shown to have a beneficial effect on various physical and mental conditions. Studies show that it can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health.

 

Does it help people with ASD?

Maybe. One aspect of animal therapy that may benefit autistic people is that this intervention can trigger a release of endorphins, which can produce a calming effect. When people are calmer, they usually show fewer behaviors related to anxiety. It should be noted however, that this treatment is still relatively new and not much research has been done on animal therapy and autism. As such, credible research showing that animal therapy is helpful for people with autism is sparse. It is also worth noting that support animals may come with safety, sanitation, and allergy concerns.

 

Is it safe?

Accredited organizations that perform animal therapy have processes for ensuring that animal therapy is suitable autistic people and treatment is personalized for each patient. Consultation with your primary care provider is essential to find an appropriate animal accustomed to each individual. When contacting animal therapy providers, ask about their qualifications.

If you would like to learn more about animal therapy in autism, please see the articles below:

 

  • Animal-assisted Intervention for Autism: Research is conducted by OHAIRE Lab at Purdue University about animal therapy benefits to autistic people. This source concluded that animal-assisted intervention was associated with improved social facilitation, attentional focus, and non-judgmental companions. However, this study also noted the need for more high-quality research examining animal therapy.

 

  • Autism and Equine-Assisted Interventions: A Systematic Mapping Review: This paper reviewed multiple studies on equine intervention for autistic people to see if there were any consistent findings across those studies. The authors found that although the studies they reviewed represented a new field of study, they seemed to indicate that equine-assisted interventions can broadly benefit autistic children and adolescents.

 

  • Companion animals and human health: benefits, challenges, and the road ahead for human-animal interaction: This study discusses the benefits and challenges of human-animal interactions with regard to health. The health benefits demonstrated included: 1) reduced depression and loneliness, 2) improved social skills, 3) decreased anxiety and arousal, and 4) increased physical activity. Problems associated with human-animal interactions were high expense, allergies, asthma, zoonoses, animal bites and scratches, and human falls. Additionally, there are inconsistent policies permitting animals into public places as well as housing developments. The study also reported that additional research is necessary to evaluate the efficacy of each type of animal therapy intervention on the overall health of humans.