Children with Autism spectrum disorder may find emotional support from canines

Using dogs to help with task rewards could be useful for parents of autistic children, says a Texas Tech University behavioural analyst, who works with therapy dogs. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of the most widely and deeply researched topics in child development, reported Science Daily recently.

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, and reward-based systems are often implemented.

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. "It is a reward-based programme," said Alexandra Protopopova, a behavioural analyst and assistant professor. "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’. 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."

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. The second was done by observing the rate of work in the children, and how motivated the children were to engage in academic tasks. Being rewarded with spending time with the therapy dog proved the most effective for some children, with researchers concluding that the dogs may offer emotional support to the child.

A larger study is planned for kids aged from 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 centres on a regular basis.

(This info has been sourced from ScienceDaily in a feature titled: “Texas Tech University. "Can therapy dogs assist in motivating children on the autism spectrum?" Click here for info: goo.gl/wctceR)

We wish Ms. Protopopova well with her future studies! If you are a dog lover and would like one-to-one advice specific to your dog, contact our nutritional specialist Peter Fishpool. Tel: 01377 254900, or visit www.horsesupplementsdirect.co.uk, where you can see details of our popular Canine Joint Right Glucosamine for Dogs Supplement.

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