LAY ABSTRACT: Children with autism typically experience difficulties interacting socially with others when compared to their non-autistic peers. Establishing how effective interventions are for improving social functioning is important to help inform what should be offered to children with autism. This study reviewed how effective interventions that involved interaction with a live animal, known as animal-assisted interventions, are in improving social functioning in children with autism. A systematic search of the evidence on this topic found nine studies, which were explored for the effectiveness of animal-assisted interventions and the quality of methods used. Overall, these studies showed improvements in social functioning following equine-assisted or therapeutic horse-riding interventions, with initial evidence showing improvements are sustained in the short and medium term. However, several issues were identified, which limit the strength of any conclusions that can be drawn from this evidence. For example, in many studies people assessing the children were aware that they received the intervention or were in a control group. There was also not enough evidence available to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of other animal-assisted interventions. Future research should address the limitations that were common in the designs of these studies and investigate the potential benefit of other animal populations, such as dogs and cats.
|Journal||Autism : the international journal of research and practice|
|Early online date||11 Apr 2022|
|Publication status||Published - 2022|
- animal-assisted interventions
- autism spectrum disorder
- social functioning
- systematic review