Thursday, March 01, 2007

Animal-assisted therapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

To an animal lover, it seems obvious that the presence of an animal would encourage healing. We feel a sense of comfort and calm as we stroke the soft fur of a quiet cat or feel the gentle nudge of a dog's nose.
But can an animal be used as a form of treatment in traditional medicine?
Jennifer Baról, a graduate student in the New Mexico Highlands University School of Social Work, headed up a research project to study whether animal-assisted therapy is a valid treatment tool.
Between July 2006 and November 2006, Baról conducted a 15-week study titled "The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on a Child with Autism". The study's purpose was to determine whether there is evidence that animal-assisted therapy helps increase social skills in children with autism.
The results were dramatic. Prior to working with Henry, an 8-year-old Australian cattle dog, 5-year-old Zachary struggled to communicate. He covered his eyes and his ears, he withdrew into corners and he threw tantrums when he couldn't get people to understand him. New activities stressed him out. He didn't know how to play with other people. He had never spoken a complete sentence.
After meeting Henry and building a bond with him, Zachary has transformed into a different child. He's more self-assured. He takes on new activities with curiosity. He is more aware of his surroundings and the needs of other people.
Most astonishing is how, halfway through the research project, Zachary spoke his first sentence.
It seems that for Zachary, animal-assisted therapy has opened up a new world.