Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism

Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism

Pet therapy is generally recognized as one of the most effective innovative approaches to assisting patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Moreover, it may be used both as a distinct method and a component of other treatment approaches. To determine the most rational application of pet therapy for patients with ASD, it is reasonable to evaluate various techniques and empirical findings. The present paper provides a comprehensive literature review of pet therapy and its application with regard to health problems experienced by patients with ASD.Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism

Carlisle (2014) evaluates short- and long-term effects of pets on children with ASD. The general findings demonstrate that children tend to develop close relationships with their pets. The author states that 94% of children are highly bounded with their dogs and other pets, and it allows them to share their personal space as well as obtain additional positive emotions (Carlisle, 2014). Thus, the major impact of pet therapy revealed in the short run refers to radical changes of children’s emotional state. They receive additional positive emotions and tend to reconsider their previous behavior patterns.



Pet ownership is also associated with some costs. In particular, a substantial amount of time and care-related expenses should be allocated for these purposes. However, the vast majority of families recognize that pet therapy leads to highly positive results, and its advantages exceed all corresponding costs (Carlisle, 2014). In the long run, children can obtain the skills of companionship and responsibility. They are crucial for their further social integration and minimization of the negative impact of ASD.

(2014) utilize animal-assisted activities for assessing their potential impact on children’s emotions and socialization through the corresponding smile-detecting interface. The authors utilized the patients with ASD and healthy children for examining the potential impact of animal-assisted activities. Smiling was detected with the help of corresponding computer devices. The results demonstrated that this form of therapy increased the frequency of smiling among both groups. The authors suggest that it proves that pet therapy may contribute to a more intense and effective socialization of patients with ASD (Funahashi et al., 2014). This assumption seems reasonable as people’s social skills depend on their expectations. As smiling is an indicator of positive expectations, their socialization may increase.Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism

The growing frequency of smiling among patients with ASD proves that they can change their perception of the external world. They may comprehend a substantial amount of social opportunities and be open to interacting with other individuals more intensely. The empirical findings also demonstrate a close correlation between children’s smiling and a socially positive behavior (Funahashi et al., 2014). Therefore, the strategy of using pet therapy for generating the maximum possible number of smiles among children seems to be reasonable under the existing conditions.
Hall, Wright, and Mills (2016) have designed a 28-item scale for assessing individual differences among patients with ASD in terms of the ultimate impact of pet therapy on their health conditions. Adaptability, social skills, and conflict management were selected as the key three groups of factors determining the impact of pet therapy. All factors were defined mathematically to establish the maximally possible quantitative precision. Family and pet aspects did not demonstrate a substantial impact on the observed effects of the therapy. However, child aspects were highly important and influential. They allowed assessing the actual interactions of these factors and their direct or indirect influence on patients’ health conditions.

Training played an important role in developing children’s social skills. In other words, an effectively organized treatment process created additional opportunities for patients with ASD, and they agreed to voluntarily adjust their behavior. In general, the obtained empirical results show that it is always important to consider the major individual differences among patients with ASD. As all individuals are different, some of their responses are not identical too. The characteristics related to children’s families and pets are comparatively insignificant while those of children play a crucial role in predicting the potential treatment effects (Hall, Wright, & Mills, 2016). It seems that addressing the individual differences can contribute to a more effective organization of the entire treatment process.

Siewertsen, French, and Teramoto (2015) investigate the major aspects of ASD and state that its mental and social afflictions constitute the major treatment problem. The traditional treatment methods do not demonstrate the expected results as they address only some aspects of the mental and emotional problems experienced by the patients with ASD. The authors suggest that dogs and horses have the characteristics that may allow reaching the highest effect on children with ASD (Siewertsen, French, & Teramoto, 2015). However, an actual pet choice should always depend on the child’s preferences and needs. It will lead to a more effective transformation of his/her behavior and social responses.Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism

The empirical findings support the initial assumption about the positive impact of pet therapy in terms of improving children’s emotional state and the abilities to assess the external world in the most correct way. Moreover, even the participants’ families reveal a highly positive attitude towards the results achieved via the application of pet therapy. At the same time, the authors recognize that small sample sizes are insufficient for making reliable conclusions, and further studies are needed (Siewertsen, French, & Teramoto, 2015). However, the overall positive effects seem to be proven by the prevalence of scientific research presented by different authors.

Wright et al. (2015) analyze the impact of pet dogs on the stress levels perceived by primary carers. The authors organized samplings of individuals with and without pets to compare the dynamics of their stress levels. The Parenting Stress Index was used as a key indicator for assessing the ultimate results observed among the selected two groups. The results demonstrated that ownership of a pet was a statistically significant factor in reducing stress among parents. Many of them were able to restore their initial level of the Parenting Stress Index (Wright et al., 2015). It means that pet therapy is important not only for children with ASD but also for their parents and other primary carers.

Fung and Leung (2014) elaborate on the specific mechanism of pet’s influence on promoting social interactions among children with ASD. The authors focused on two groups participating in pet and alternative therapy. 14 sessions were organized for assessing the development of children’s verbal behavior skills. The results demonstrated that almost all children from the experimental group achieved a substantial improvement in verbal communication skills. Although the dynamics in the control groups was also positive, the impact of pet therapy was stronger and more serious (Fung, & Leung, 2014). Therefore, it may be used for facilitating the process of children’s socialization and improvement of their patterns of verbal communication.Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism

It seems that the positive effects were mostly caused by affecting children’s emotional state and perception of other people. As a result, children became more open and were able to communicate their experience of interacting with pets to others. As these values and experience were also shared by other participants of the study, children with ASD communicated intensely in a mutually beneficial way. Correspondingly, their verbal skills tended to improve, and it served as a foundation for a more productive communication. Fung and Leung (2014) suggest that pet therapy may fulfill the functions of a “Speech Elicitor” for children. Therefore, it should necessarily be integrated into the general set of treatment measures.

Grandgeorge et al. (2015) explain that the difficulties with treating children with ASD are mostly associated with attention deficit. It means that they are not highly interested in the objects of the external world. The lack of interest results in further problems such as minimal communication with other social members and cognitive misbalances. The authors used the ethnological approach for determining whether pets could generate a substantial interest among children with ASD and transform their typical behavior in a socially desirable way.Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism
The sample of 6-12 years old children was used for organizing this experiment (Grandgeorge et al., 2015). The patterns revealed children with ASD were compared to those of children with typical development. In general, all children showed a growing interest, and the concentration of their attention tended to rise while experiencing the contact with a pet. Moreover, one of the key characteristics observed in relation to children with ASD was that their interest in people also increased (Grandgeorge et al., 2015). It proves that pet therapy has not only a direct impact on children’s behavior and health but also an indirect one through changing their perception of the already known facts and objects.



McGilivray and Evert (2014) evaluate the potential impact of group therapy on children with ASD. In particular, they examine the long-term effects of this method in the context of reducing the existing levels of stress and depression to an acceptable degree. Their findings reveal that an effective combination of this method with other treatment techniques allows reaching sustainable positive results within 9 months (McGilivray, & Evert, 2014). In particular, it seems reasonable to utilize the proven positive effects of group therapy, combining it with the latest achievements of pet therapy.

The potential positive effects of implementing pet therapy in groups should be examined further in subsequent studies. However, the development of pet therapy interventions in group settings may facilitate children’s socialization. They may compare their responses and reactions to those of other participants facing similar experience. Moreover, the findings of McGilivray and Evert (2014) may be applied to primary carers of children with ASD. As they often experience maximum levels of stress, the small group therapy may be also applicable to them.Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism

Chandramouleeswaran and Russell (2014) point out that pet therapy may be used even in those cases when individuals experience substantial psychological problems and need psychiatric treatment. In general, the review of scientific studies presented by various authors proves that pet therapy may increase the overall effectiveness of psychological interventions and make them more individually-oriented. Therefore, pet therapy plays a crucial role in different stages of treatment and may be combined with other approaches. Correspondingly, actual effects of pet therapy may also be different due to its application to different cases in various contexts. Although the existing studies show its ability to improve substantially cognitive and communication abilities of children with ASD, it is crucial to consider the actual set of interventions developed for a given child with ASD.

The findings presented by Chandramouleeswaran and Russell (2014) are significant as they state that pet therapy is applicable even to those children with ASD who have additional psychological problems or require psychiatric treatment. However, in this case, the application of pet therapy should be adjusted to the overall health needs of these children. Moreover, it is reasonable to integrate it into the overall treatment program. Pet therapy may serve as a crucial link for creating complementary relations between various stages of psychological interventions. The close monitoring is also needed for making the necessary changes in the initially designed plan.Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism

Carlisle (2015) evaluates the relationships between children’s bonding with their pets and their social skills. The Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scale is used for assessing the results obtained from the survey of parents of children who suffer from ASD. The parents stated that close relationships between pets and their children contributed to a rapid improvement of children’s socialization. The subscale item “assertion” demonstrated a positive dynamics in children’s social skills (Carlisle, 2015). These findings are consistent with the above analysis of the radical transition of children’s with ASD behavior after their interactions with pets. Moreover, the ultimate results depend not only on the form of selected pet therapy but also on the degree of close relationships between children and their pets. Thus, children bonding with their pets demonstrated the most rapid improvement of their social skills.

It may be expected that the growing socialization of children will also have a positive impact on the psychological state of their parents and other primary carers. As the state of children’s health and parents’ stress perception are closely interrelated, any positive changes will have a proportional impact on the psychological conditions of parents and close people. Carlisle’s analysis (2015) provides a helpful information as it focuses on the effects of pet therapy from the perspective of children’s parents rather than traditional health indicators. It allows addressing implicit subjective aspects of the issue under investigation. As the objective health indicators do not necessarily coincide with parents’ subjective perceptions, it is reasonable to verify the perceived results of pet therapy by all involved parties. As primary carers also support the evaluation of pet therapy as a highly positive intervention, it may be used as a justification for a more intense application of this approach in the future.Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism

In general, the analysis of findings of the above authors allows formulating several general statements. Firstly, the major source of health problems present among children with ASD refers to the lack of interest and proper concentration of their attention. Secondly, all empirical findings (regardless of their concrete methods and indicators) prove the ability of pet therapy to generate a considerable interest among children with ASD. It transforms children’s behavior and makes them more active. Thirdly, pet therapy improves children’s socialization and communication skills. Fourthly, the most serious impact is observed among children bonding with their pets. Fifthly, the indirect positive effect on primary carers is also present. Their level of stress tends to decline as children’s health conditions improve. Sixthly, pet therapy is applicable even when additional psychological problems or psychiatric treatment exist. Finally, it is crucial to adjust the application of pet therapy to the needs of a given patient with ASD to achieve the maximum possible results.

To summarize, pet therapy is one of the most innovative and reliable treatment approaches applicable for patients with ASD. It demonstrates high results in various modifications and leads to positive long-term transformations of children’s behavior patterns and cognitive abilities. In some cases, it should be used in a complex with other treatment methods and techniques. If the individual characteristics and health needs of a given patient are considered, the most effective and rapid health improvement dynamics may be attained.Pet Therapy for Patients with Autism