Join CafeMom Today! Autism Spectrum Disorder: Treatments: Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and Autism

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and Autism

Animal-assisted therapy

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves an animal with specific characteristics becoming a fundamental part of a person's treatment. Animal-assisted therapy is designed to improve the physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning of the patient, as well as provide educational and motivational effectiveness for participants. AAT can be provided on an individual or group basis. During AAT, therapists document records and evaluate the participant's progress.

Many kinds of animals are used in therapy, including dogs, cats, elephants, birds, dolphins, rabbits, lizards, and other small animals. AAT with horses is known specifically as equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP), equine-assisted creative living (EACL), equine-assisted personal development (EAPD) or hippotherapy.

Benefits

People who have pets benefit in various ways, for example, the comfort of physical contact with animals, reducing loneliness, and increased opportunities for meeting others, via the pets. In addition, caring for pets encourages nurturance, responsibility, and adherence to a daily schedule.

Physical

May lower blood pressure, risk for stroke or heartattack, and decrease depression.

Mental

A 2007 meta-analysis found that animal-assisted therapy is associated with moderate effect sizes in improving outcomes in autism spectrum symptoms, medical difficulties, behavioral problems, and emotional well-being.

  • Increase verbal interactions between group members.
  • Increase attention skills (i.e., paying attention, staying on task).
  • Develop leisure/recreation skills.
  • Increase self-esteem.
  • Reduce anxiety.
  • Reduce loneliness.

Educational

  • Increase vocabulary.
  • Aid in long- or short-term memory.
  • Improve knowledge of concepts, such as size, color, etc.

Motivational

  • Improve willingness to be involved in a group activity.
  • Improve interactions with others.
  • Improve interactions with staff.

Criticism

Researchers at Emory University have concluded that Dolphin Assisted Therapy is "...a dangerous fad." and lacks any real efficacy. Furthermore, the practice of capturing dolphins can leave more injured or even dead.

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