What effect does participating in an assistance dog program have on the quality of life of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their caregivers? A systematic review of current literature

Esther Sprod, Michael Francis Norwood

Abstract


The use of assistance dogs for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder is an emerging field, with interventions varying from formal assistance dog programs aimed at increasing child safety in public, to incorporating assistance dogs into therapy sessions. Previous reviews have suggested mostly positive outcomes from participating in such programs, however cited a lack of high quality studies available. This systematic review aims to answer the question: what effect does participating in an assistance dog program have on the quality of life of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their caregivers? After analysis, ten studies were deemed to meet the inclusion and exclusion criteria, and were included in the review. Findings suggest that participating in various Autism assistance dog programs can: 1) increase child safety in public, which in turn decreases self-reported parental stress and increases self-reported parental confidence in managing their child; 2) increase positive behaviours and decrease negative behaviours; and 3) facilitate motor, communication and social development. However, disparities were found between studies, particularly between quantitative and qualitative results, and between the quality of the projects’ design. These factors indicate that further, high quality research is still needed to support emerging evidence. 


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