Tag Archives: autism

9 out of 10 nurses believe animals can improve patient health

Nine out of ten (90%) nurses believe animals can improve the health of patients with depression and other mental health problems, according to a survey of members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

animal-therapy

The survey of more than 750 nursing staff also found that more than 80% think animals can improve communication difficulties such as for people with autism. In addition, 82% said that animals, dogs in particular, encouraged patients to be more physically active, while nearly 60% said just the presence of animals seemed to speed physical recovery.

Nearly half of those surveyed have worked with animals in their career, from dogs and cats to ponies and chipmunks, and of those 98% said it benefited the patient.

However, almost a quarter of staff questioned said no animals were allowed where they worked.

Amanda Cheesley, RCN Professional Lead for Long-term Conditions and End-of-life care, said: “I’ve seen patients with animals in hospitals and in their homes – the difference it makes is remarkable. I used to take my Great Dane with me when I was a district nurse and he could put a smile on any patient’s face.”

“The RCN is calling for better, more consistent access to animals for all patients who can benefit, as the evidence is clear that as well as bringing joyful moments to people when they are unwell, the clinical benefits are tangible. Nurses have told us of patients with reduced anxiety, better interaction and a whole reason to live – and we should listen to these experiences.”

Source:  Royal College of Nursing

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Can Therapy Dogs Assist in Motivating Children on the Autism Spectrum?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of the most widely and deeply researched topics in child development as researchers constantly look for answers into not only its cause but the best way to treat the problematic symptoms of the disorder once diagnosed.

Effects of the various types of ASD include deficits in social communication and interaction, repetitive or restricted behavior, sensory issues and cognitive delays. These traits prevent children on the spectrum from performing or completing tasks in the same timeliness or fashion as other children.

Often, in order to get children with ASD to complete tasks, a reward-based system is implemented, where the child is given a toy or some other form of reward. But the offer of a reward doesn’t always guarantee completion of the task.

One Texas Tech University researcher is part of a team taking a unique look at this system by providing access to therapy dogs as the reward, allowing students who complete certain academic tasks to spend time with the pooch, with the hope that potential interaction further motivates them to complete those tasks.

“It is a reward-based program,” said Alexandra Protopopova, a behavioral analyst and assistant professor in companion animal science in the Department of Animal & Food Sciences. “There is a second component to it, however, in that dogs, just by being dogs, may alleviate stress. Potentially, the dogs create a more pleasant environment and offer emotional support during academic sessions.”

“So, by mediating that stress level, the dogs may improve learning and potentially improve other outcomes as well as being a reward for the child ruing work.”

Dogs as rewards for autistic children

The dogs create a more pleasant environment and offer emotional support during academic sessions. Photo by Texas Tech University

Protopopova is an expert in behavior issues with dogs across a wide array of subjects, from interaction with children with ASD to analyzing what behaviors are more attractive for potential adopters and ways to bring those behaviors out to improve adoption rates.

But she said the methods and philosophies of how behavior works in animals is, at the core, the same as it is in children, and it is that connection that made this current research both attractive and interesting.

“With an iPad or toy as a reward, a child might become bored over time,” Protopopova said. “With a dog you might see the exact opposite situation over time where the child grows attached to the dog and the quality of the reward grows as well.”

Emotional interaction

Upon arriving at Texas Tech, Protopopova had a colleague in the College of Education, professor Jeanne Donaldson, who is now at Louisiana State University, and wanted to immediately connect the college and the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research with the Department of Animal & Food Sciences. The most natural way to make that connection, she said was to incorporate therapy dogs with the research being done involving applied behavior analysis in children with disabilities.

“Social behavior and social interaction has been an often neglected component of these kinds of programs,” Protopopova said, “and that is something researchers have attempted to improve, that social behavior and communication. There is some evidence that dogs or animals in general occasionally could bring out that social connection. That part of the research is definitely attractive to us.”

Measuring the effectiveness of using therapy dogs as a reward for academic performance in children with ASD was performed in two areas. The first was done biologically; stress responses were detected through the collection of saliva. Breanna Harris, a research assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, used salivary cortisol, a stress hormone, to determine a student’s stress level in regard to anticipating interaction with the dog.

The second aspect of measuring effectiveness was done by observing the rate of work in the children and how motivated the children were to engage in academic tasks. Each child was given an individual task based on his or her education level, so those tasks involved the same things they were learning in school at the time or what parents had indicated the child needed extra help with.

A control condition was created where there were not rewards and children received praise only for engaging in academic tasks. A second control group saw children work toward receiving inanimate leisure items such as iPads or toys, which Protopopova said have been proven through prior research to be effective motivational tactics.

Two other control conditions involved the therapy dogs. One condition involved the dogs being used as a reward for work performed and would be present only after that work was completed. The second condition was what Protopopova termed more of the typical animal assisted intervention where the dog was continuously present in the room.

The conditions where there was no reward at all and where the dog was constantly around proved to be the most ineffective methods of motivation, researchers found. The two conditions where there were rewards provided upon completion of the work were the most effective; being rewarded with spending time with the therapy dog proved the most effective for some children.

“In fact, for most of the children, this was very useful as a reward because the dog motivated them quite a bit to do the work,” Protopopova said. “We did find, surprisingly to me, that one participant did in fact work where we hypothesized he wouldn’t during a session where the dog was present but not as a reward.”

Improvement over time

Single-use incidents of using the therapy dog show one thing, but the researchers wanted to determine whether prolonged exposure to the availability of a therapy dog as a reward for performing work continues those results.

For that reason, in this first study, children stayed in the program for anywhere from four to nine months to see if using the same dog repeatedly fosters the child’s attachment to the dog.

Prior to the child beginning the program, he or she is given a behavioral preference assessment where the child is asked to choose his or her favorite thing in the room, whether it’s a toy, an electronic device, a dog, etc. They also were given the choice of performing the academic test instead. At the end of the program, the child is tested again with the same assessment to see if their preferences had changed.

“We wanted to see how all these preferences for inanimate objects or activities changed,” Protopopova said. “Right now we are still collecting the final pieces of data because we’re still finishing up with a couple of participants. We don’t yet have the clear answers there, but it’s not as straightforward as we imagined, either. For some of the children, we did not see the attachment we hypothesized, or at least any evidence of it in our data so far. But it’s too early to tell.”

Protopopova said one of the advantages of this study is its single-subject design where each child’s program or sessions are designed specifically for that child’s needs. That will allow, if the program is used outside of an educational setting, for other children to enter the program with a focus on their unique behaviors and what is best to encourage them to learn difficult academic or self-care tasks in a non-stressful learning environment.

She said one family in the original group took the data gathered about their child and obtained a dog and will train it as a service dog because of the benefits the data showed for their child.

“This is definitely a strength,” Protopopova said. “Instead of a group design and us concluding that the average child would benefit from some procedure, which is not really that meaningful to individual families, we can give each family specific answers whether their child would or would not benefit from a dog.”

One major question to come out of the preliminary research, she said, is whether using a shelter dog to encourage behavior can be used to determine the severity of the disability. Does it work on children who are higher- or lower-functioning?

Protopopova and other researchers are beginning another one to answer new questions that rose from the original, smaller study.

The larger study will involve at least 30 children, and they are actively recruiting children to enter the study. Those children must be between the ages of 2 and 14 with autism spectrum disorder and/or other developmental disabilities.

The hope is the larger study will allow the research to be used in schools and centers on a regular basis.

“There we can answer more generalized questions,” Protopopova said. “How useful is this and who is it most useful for? Can we tell which children are going to benefit and which ones will not? So when we get those answers we are going to be a bit closer to really giving that program out to schools to say, ‘we have strong evidence that it will be useful for this person or not for this person.”

Source:  Texas Tech University media statement

Research shows dogs de-stress families with autistic children

Owning a pet dog reduces stress and significantly improves functioning in families who have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), new research has shown.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, and funded by the US-based Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation, also found a reduction in the number of dysfunctional interactions between parent and child among families which owned a dog.

Published in the American Journal of Veterinary Behavior, it is among the first of a number of HABRI-funded research projects which examine the effects of companion animals on human health. This project focused specifically on the effects of pet dogs on families with children with ASD.

Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, led the research. He said: “While there‭ ‬is‭ ‬growing‭ ‬evidence ‬that ‬animal-assisted‭ ‬therapy‭ ‬can aid in ‬the‭ ‬treatment‭ ‬of‭ children with ‬autism‭ ‬spectrum‭ ‬disorders, this study is one of the first to examine how‭ ‬pet‭ ‬dog‭ ‬ownership‭ ‬can also ‬improve‭ ‬the‭ ‬lives‭ ‬of‭ ‬those‭ ‬more widely affected‭ ‬by‭ ‬autism. Researchers have previously focused on the positive effects that assistance dogs can have on the child’s well-being and have passed over the impact they might also have on close relatives, but our results show that owning a pet dog (rather than a specifically trained assistance dog) can considerably improve the function of the whole family unit.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

“We found a significant, positive‭ ‬relationship‭ ‬between‭ ‬parenting‭ ‬stress‭ ‬of‭ ‬the child‭’‬s‭ ‬main‭ ‬caregiver‭ ‬and‭ ‬their‭ ‬attachment‭ ‬to‭ ‬the‭ family dog. This highlights the importance of the bond between the carer and their dog in the benefits they‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ gain.”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The research involved families who took part in a previous study, which examined the short-term effect of a pet dog on families of a child with autism. The researchers followed up with the families two and a half years later in order to determine the longevity of the benefits of pet ownership. The study demonstrated that initial results of reduced family difficulties lasted years beyond the early stages of acquiring a dog, and that stress levels continued to experience a steady decline.

“Stress associated with parenting a child with autism continued to decrease among dog owners over time, but we did not see the same reductions in families without a dog,” added Professor Mills. “This long-term follow up study highlights the potential benefits of pet ownership in bringing long-term improvements to the lives of families living with a child with autism.”

HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman said: “Parents of children with autism can experience increased anxiety and stress, and now we have strong scientific evidence to show that pets can have positive effects on these quality-of-life issues. Families with an autistic child should consider pet ownership as a way to improve family harmony.”

The study at Lincoln is one of a series of research projects from a major body of work carried out at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences which sheds light on the benefits that pet dogs can bring to children with ASD and their families.

Source:  University of Lincoln media release

Joey and the Pit Bull


People who have autism are often misunderstood.  So are Pit Bulls.  These two make a great pair.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Autistic children who live with pets are more assertive

Yet another piece of research that points to the value of dogs and other animals.  This time the research was done at the University of Missouri and focused on the social skills of autistic children.

You guessed it – the children who lived with pets developed better social skills including assertiveness.  “When I compared the social skills of children with autism who lived with dogs to those who did not, the children with dogs appeared to have greater social skills,” said Gretchen Carlisle, Research Fellow.

Source:  University of Missouri press release

Now Paw-tucket can live up to its name

The city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island had a 10-year old ordinance banning the ownership of pit bulls until earlier this week.  A judge ruled that a 2013 state law banning breed-specific legislation meant that the city’s law was now illegal.

This is a win for the fight against breed specific laws and restrictions.

Pit bull owners in Pawtucket celebrated on Sunday with a parade.  There was also a free dog training class offered afterwards.  A local group, Pit Bulls for PTSD, also participated in the parade.  The group trains pit bulls to become service dogs for autistic children and veterans suffering from PTSD.

Please remember:  punish the deed and not the breed!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Dogs benefit children with autism

A University of Missouri researcher has studied dog ownership decisions in families of children with autism and found that parents report a range of benefits of dog ownership including companionship, stress relief and opportunities for their children to learn responsibility.

Photo credit: Noël Zia Lee, Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Noël Zia Lee, Wikimedia Commons

‘Children with autism spectrum disorders often struggle with interacting with others, which can make it difficult for them to form friendships,’ said Gretchen Carlisle, the study’s author. ‘Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship to the children.’

Carlisle interviewed 70 parents of children with autism.  Nearly two-thirds of the parents in the study owned dogs, and of those parents, 94 percent reported their children with autism were bonded to their dogs. Even in families without dogs, 70 percent of parents said their children with autism liked dogs.

‘Bringing a dog into any family is a big step, but for families of children with autism, getting a dog should be a decision that’s taken very seriously.  If a child with autism is sensitive to loud noises, choosing a dog that is likely to bark will not provide the best match for the child and the family. If the child has touch sensitivities, perhaps a dog with a softer coat, such as a poodle, would be better than a dog with a wiry or rough coat, such as a terrier.’

The study, “Pet Dog Ownership Decisions for Parents of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder,” was published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing earlier this year.

Source:  University of Missouri media release

For more about the benefits of dogs for people with autism, read my post Dogs are a ‘social lubricant’ in helping people with autism