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How will the pet therapy aid the child with autism?

How will the pet therapy aid the child with autism?


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As a Special Education Teacher at ACCEL, behaviors of individuals with autism has been remarkably consistent over time with the help of ABA therapy services, which include pet therapy and individualized education program.

What are your thoughts about pet therapy for this population? How is it proven to be beneficial?


There is some evidence that pet therapy are effective for individuals with autism. The studies did not differentiate between children and adult though it is likely that the studies are focused on children.

This 2012 systematic review by O'Haire found increased social interaction and communication as well as a decrease in problem behaviors, autistic severity, and stress. There is a strong suspicion of publication bias and also a lack of control arms for comparison. O'Haire found 14 studies ranging from 1989 to 2012 that had outcome data for her review.

Another interesting 2012 French study by Grandgeorge et al) looked at the prosocial impact of having a pet in 260 families with children. What I thought was interesting was that having a pet since birth had minimal impact on the child which were the same rate as children without pets. However, if the family got a new pet after the age of 5, there was evidence of an increase in prosocial behavior.

References:

Grandgeorge, M., Tordjman, S., Lazartigues, A., Lemonnier, E., Deleau, M., & Hausberger, M. (2012). Does Pet Arrival Trigger Prosocial Behaviors in Individuals with Autism? PLOS ONE, 7(8), e41739.

O'Haire, M. (2012). Animal-Assisted Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Literature Review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Vol 43, pg 1606-1622.


The Role of the Pediatric Physical Therapist for Children on the Autism Spectrum

The role of pediatric physical therapy is to help children who have difficulty with functional movement, poor balance, and challenges moving through their environment successfully. Some children on the autism spectrum have low muscle tone, some have poor balance, others may not be well-coordinated, and still others may have a combination of all of the above. These are all areas that a physical therapist can address. After an assessment, the physical therapist will design and implement a program that will help to improve the individual child’s areas of need and increase overall function and participation.

(Many children or adults who have an accident and hurt themselves can benefit from physical therapy, whether they are diagnosed with ASD or not. This article does not address this type of rehabilitative therapy.)

Physical Therapy Areas of Intervention

  • Gross Motor Skills – using large muscles for sitting, standing, walking, running, etc.
  • Balance/Coordination Skills – involves the brain, bones, and muscles in a coordinated effort for smooth movement for example, as in climbing stairs, jumping, etc.
  • Strengthening – building muscle for support and endurance for example, to walk for a distance without becoming tired.
  • Functional Mobility/Motor Planning – moving through space, day to day, for independence and efficiency for example, to climb onto the rocking chair and make it rock back and forth.

The Importance of Motor Skills

Gross motor skills enable children to explore and learn from their environment. Young babies’ neck muscles develop, allowing them to hold their head up and see things from an upright position. Trunk muscles strengthen, enabling children to sit and soon after crawl and begin to explore their surroundings on their own. Toddlers learn to walk, climb, and eventually run. As children become adults, motor skills continue to be important for independence.

What is the Goal of Physical Therapy for a Child on the Autism Spectrum?

Every child on the autism spectrum is unique. Not every child on the spectrum will need physical therapy. If physical therapy is found to be medically necessary and the child could benefit from physical therapy services, a program will specifically be designed for his or her needs.

A licensed physical therapist (PT) or certified physical therapy assistant (CPTA), supervised by a PT, may implement treatment for a child who meets eligibility criteria for physical therapy services within an Early Intervention or school program. Physical therapy is also available as an outpatient service.

Where Does Treatment Occur?

Physical therapy for children on the autism spectrum (or other special needs populations) can occur in a variety of places including the home, school, or outpatient clinic setting. Physical therapy provided as an educational service will take place at the child’s school. Children under age 3 who are elibible for physical therapy through the Early Intervention system, will receive therapy in their “Natural Environment” (usually their home or daycare but where ever they typically spend time). Families may also elect to seek outpatient services in a hospital or clinic.

What Does a Treatment Session Look Like?

Since children learn through play, physical therapists use child-friendly, specially chosen toys and activities to motivate and encourage their students or patients to participate in therapy. Typically you will find balls, swings, and slides in a pediatric therapy gym. Children are encouraged to have fun while they work hard to accomplish the tasks their therapists set for them.

In Early Intervention, the focus is to coach and educate families and caregivers on how to use physical therapy activities to encourage increased participation in the child’s routines at home and in the community. For example, this may include helping a child to learn to move as independently as possible throughout his home and at the playground. School-based physical therapy supports the child’s ability to get around the building and classroom in order to access to the educational program and promote learning.

How Often Can Treatment Occur?

If your child receives services through the education system (Early Intervention, Preschool, or School-Age), the frequency of services are determined by the child’s IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) or IEP (Individualized Educational Program)team, based on your child’s identified needs. Length of treatment sessions, number of times per week, and the goals of therapy will be discussed and agreed upon at the IEP or IFSP meeting. As part of these teams, parents and caretakers contribute to the making of these decisions.

In a clinic setting, the treatment is determined by the referring physician, parent/caretaker, and therapist. The amount of therapy provided by the child’s health insurance may also influence the frequency of services.


American Heart Association Abstract 2513 (Download PDF)

John Hopkins University, 2018 (Download PDF)

DALLAS, Nov. 15 - When it comes to health care, "going to the dogs" is a good thing, according to new research reported at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2005.

Researchers discovered that a 12-minute visit with man's best friend helped heart and lung function by lowering pressures, diminishing release of harmful hormones and decreasing anxiety among hospitalized heart failure patients. Benefits exceeded those that resulted from a visit with a human volunteer or from being left alone.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been shown to reduce blood pressure in healthy and hypertensive patients. It reduces anxiety in hospitalized patients, too.

Still, the therapeutic approach of using dogs to soothe people's minds and improve health has been considered more a "nicety" than credible science, said Kathie M. Cole, R.N., M.N., C.C.R.N., lead author of the study and a clinical nurse III at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

To determine the potential benefits of animal-assisted therapy on health, the researchers studied 76 hospitalized heart failure patients and their reactions to a visit from either a human volunteer and dog team, a human volunteer only or no visit (the at-rest group). Patients were randomly assigned to one of these three approaches.

"We looked at the dogs' effects on variables that characterize heart failure, including changes in cardiac function, neuroendocrine (stress hormone) activation and psychological changes in mood," Cole said.

The intervention lasted 12 minutes. In the volunteer-dog team group, specially trained dogs (of 12 different breeds) would lie on patients' beds, so patients could touch them while interacting with the volunteer-dog team.

Researchers monitored patients' hemodynamics - the collective system of measurement for blood volume, heart function and resistance of the blood vessels. They measured hemodynamic pressures just before the 12-minute intervention, eight minutes into the intervention and four minutes after the intervention. Investigators also measured epinephrine and norepinephrine levels at these three time points, and administered an anxiety test before and after the intervention.

Researchers found that anxiety scores dropped 24 percent for participants who received a visit from the volunteer-dog team. Scores for the volunteer-only group dropped 10 percent and the at-rest group's score did not change. Researchers measured anxiety with the Spielberger's self report state anxiety inventory.

Levels of the stress hormone epinephrine dropped an average 14.1 picograms/mL or 17 percent in the volunteer-dog team group 2 percent in the volunteer-only group and rose an average of 7 percent in the at-rest group.

Pulmonary capillary wedge, the measurement of left atrial pressure, dropped an average 2.1 mmHg, or 10 percent, at the end of the intervention for those receiving volunteer-dog team therapy. However, it increased 3 percent for the volunteer-only group and increased 5 percent for the at-rest group.

Systolic pulmonary artery pressure, a measure of pressure in the lungs, dropped in the volunteer-dog team group 5 percent during and 5 percent after therapy. It rose during and after therapy in the other two groups.

The volunteer-dog team group showed more improvement than the volunteer-only group in right atrial pressure, norepinephrine level and heart rate.

"This study demonstrates that even a short-term exposure to dogs has beneficial physiological and psychosocial effects on patients who want it," Cole said. "This therapy warrants serious consideration as an adjunct to medical therapy in hospitalized heart failure patients. Dogs are a great comfort. They make people happier, calmer and feel more loved. That is huge when you are scared and not feeling well."

Co-authors are Anna Gawlinski, R.N., D.N.Sc., and Neil Steers, Ph.D.

Statements and conclusions of study authors that are published in the American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect association policy or position. The American Heart Association makes no representation or warranty as to their accuracy or reliability.

Notes: This study is the first randomized Animal-assisted therapy trial to look at subjects with severe heart failure in the critical care setting. Norepinephrine and epinephrine catecholamines have not been looked at before in addition to the cardiopulmonary measurements utilzing a pulmonary artery catheter.

Twelve different breeds participated which helps to add external validity to that portion of the study. The breeds happened to include two golden retrievers, 1 Great Pyrenese, 1 Std poodle, 1 German shephard, 1 dachshund, 2 labrador retrievers, 1 irish setter, 1 Bernese Mountain dog, 1 border collie, 1 miniature schnauzer.

No incidents or negative encounters have occurred with the dogs certified in the People Aninmal Connection Program at UCLA Medical Center.


How Pet Therapy Can Help Autism

Animal-assisted therapy may increase self-confidence and other skills in children with autism.

Man’s best friend can truly be your child’s best friend, according to some studies on the interaction between pets and autistic children.

Many parents are surprised to see the connection between their autistic child and animals. You might see it happening spontaneously — just when you are wondering how to help improve your child's communication and social skills, you notice that he acts playful, happier, and more focused when around a friend's pet. Or perhaps you have heard about the profound impact animals can have on some children with autism from another parent. Whatever prompts you, it may be time to introduce your autistic child to the wide world of animals.

Animal-Assisted Therapy for Autism

Being around household pets or having structured contact with animals can be a great addition to treatment for children with autism. There are many reports from both parents and clinicians that interacting with animals, formally called animal-assisted therapy, can offer both physical and emotional benefits to children with autism.

Animal-assisted therapy can be as simple as bringing a family pet into the household or as structured as programs that offer horseback riding or swimming with dolphins. Interaction with animals can help children with autism become more physically developed and improve their strength, coordination, and physical abilities. More importantly, many people derive much joy from their relationship with animals, which can help autistic children have a better sense of well-being and more self-confidence.

Animals can be amazing for children with autism, says Colleen Dolnick, a mother in Town and Country, Mo., who has a 10-year-old son with autism. "Animals can relate to these children. And these children, who have a hard time relating to peers, can really relate to animals."

Animals and Autism: What the Research Says

While more research is still needed to determine the effects and confirm the benefits of animal-assisted therapy specifically for children with autism, a number of studies have suggested it could help. In the 1970s, psychologist and researcher David Nathanson began studying how interactions with dolphins affected children with disabilities. Nathanson found that being around dolphins could increase a child's attention, enhance their thinking, help them learn faster, and retain information longer.

More recently, a study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research looked at the effects of interacting with dogs on children with autism spectrum disorders. For the study, children were exposed to a ball, a stuffed dog, or a live dog under the supervision of a therapist. The children who played with the live dog were in a better mood and more aware of their surroundings than the children who were exposed to the ball or stuffed dog.

Trying Animal-Assisted Therapy With Your Autistic Child

If you are interested in animal-assisted therapy for your child, talk with your child's doctor. There may be horseback-riding, dolphin-therapy, or other animal-therapy programs in your area that the doctor could refer you to.

If you are ready to make the commitment of bringing a pet into your home, you may want to consider a service dog that has been specially trained to work with children with autism. These dogs can be wonderful additions to families of autistic children and can even accompany children when they are away from home, such as at school, helping to keep them calm and comforted. For more information, contact an organization such as Autism Service Dogs of America.

Pets quickly become a treasured member of the family, offering love and companionship. And for the family that includes a child with autism, the rewards can be even greater.


Autism and Pets: More Evidence of Social Benefits

A new study lends support to the idea that interacting with a pet benefits many children with autism. However, the author emphasizes the need to consider each child’s sensitivities as well as family dynamics in carefully considering pet ownership.

The study, published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, surveyed parents of children who had autism about the children’s interactions with dogs. Nearly two thirds of the families owned a dog. Of these, 94 percent said their child bonded strongly with the pet. Even in the families without dogs, 7 in 10 parents said their child enjoyed interacting with dogs.

Previous research involving children with autism found that those who had a family pet from a young age tended to have greater social skills. Still other research has shown how social behaviors in children who have autism temporarily improve after even a short play period with a live animal such as a guinea pig (versus a toy). A number of Autism Speaks Community Grants have supported successful equine-therapy programs for children with autism.

“Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship,” says the new study’s author, Gretchen Carlisle. Dr. Carlisle is a research fellow with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.


About the Authors

Jonathan A. Weiss, PhD, clinical psychologist, is an associate professor of psychology at York University (Toronto, Ontario). He holds a chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research, with a research focus on the prevention and treatment of mental health problems across the life course. He is currently a member-at-large for APA Div. 33 (2015-2017).

Jason K. Baker, PhD, is an assistant professor of child and adolescent studies and founding co-director of the Center for Autism at the California State University, Fullerton. His research is focused on how child and family factors interrelate to promote the social-emotional development of children with ASD, and Baker was member-at-large for APA Div. 33 from 2014-2016.

Eric M. Butter, PhD, is chief of psychology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio and director of both the Child Development Center and the Department of Pediatric Psychology and Neuropsychology. He is jointly appointed as an associate professor of pediatrics in the College of Medicine and of Psychology at the Ohio State University and is a site director for the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network. His research focus has been on parent training in autism and ADHD, genetic and psychological characterization of children with ASD, psychological assessment of youth with autism or related disorders, and psychosocial and pharmacological interventions for autism. Butter is currently the membership chair and council representative (2016-2019) for APA Div. 33.


Nine Ways Therapy Dogs Can Help Kids with Autism

Life for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities can be challenging. ASD causes developmental impairment that often leads to other issues like rigid behavior, narrow range of interests, social withdrawal, and anxiety. Children with ASD often have short attention spans and difficulties with social communication.

There are various therapies and behavioral management programs available to offer support to children living with this neurological and developmental disorder. While some therapists focus on developing communication skills of ASD patients, others stress reducing the problematic behaviors associated with autism. In addition to this, there is something else that is helping people with autism – spending time with therapy dogs .

Therapy Dogs for the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder

According to Francesca Cirulli, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Health, Italy, many studies show that dogs work as social catalysts by encouraging people to bond with each other. A few studies have found this notion true in terms of kids with autism.

A review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine has shown evidence that therapy dogs can play a crucial role in helping autistic patients develop communication and social skills. The team reviewed six published studies that covered the effects of dogs on children with autism. Out of the six studies, four were on therapy dogs that assisted therapists during the treatment sessions. The was found that autistic children were more vocal and engaged in the sessions when dogs were around.

Another study that reviewed the behavior of 22 autistic children revealed that children were more engaged and talkative during sessions where dogs were present. A separate study showed that children who had therapy dogs during the session were less aggressive and more friendly.

You see, therapy dogs can assist autistic children by making them feel socially and emotionally secure. These trained furry friends can help in improving the emotional wellbeing of the child and further aid in developing their sensory integration.

Advantages of Therapy Dogs in Treating ASD

Social Engagement

Kids with autism experience some difficulty in socializing with others. A therapy dog can help an autistic child to break the ice and motivate them to mingle with others. When needed, therapy dogs can divert the attention of autistic kids away from distractions and help focus on a task.

Calm During Meltdowns

Therapy dogs have the ability to sense and feel the emotions of people they are attending to. A therapy dog can sometimes reduce the severity or totally circumvent the onset of a meltdown during a visit.

Cognitive and Emotional Growth

Autistic kids sometimes lack cognitive skills. Their rigid behavior often makes it difficult for them to form an emotional connection with others. Since therapy dogs promote positive feelings of care, love, and empathy in kids with autism. Therapy dogs love to be hugged, touched, and cuddled by children which further instills the feeling of care in autistic kids.

Sensory Support

Children with autism need sensory stimulation through regular games and activities. Therapy dogs can be trained to assist autistic children throughout the process by means of various games and activities like, tug of war, hide and seek, and massage.

Reassurance During Anxiety

A therapy dog can make a perfect companion to battle a sudden bout of anxiety and restlessness during a visit. Therapy dogs are known for offering relief from stress. The presence of therapy dogs offers a sense of security for autistic kids. .

Improved Vocal Skills

Autistic kids have impaired communication skills. It has been noted that such kids speak more frequently when a therapy dog is around. A therapy dog can bring significant change in speech challenged or nonverbal children by promoting their speech.

Companionship

Autistic kids have difficulty in making eye contact. This developmental disorder also prevents them from socializing and bonding with others. However, therapy dogs have the ability to quickly bond with children. This helps the child experience friendship and cope up with loneliness. Unlike human friends, therapy dogs are non-judgemental, which further helps an autistic child become comfortable around others.

Autism is as stressful for families as it is for the child suffering from it. However, therapy dogs don’t just help autism kids battle the disorder, but they also help parents and families to find peace and strength. Studies have shown that the support from therapy dogs can help parents of an autistic child feel relaxed and experience less stress.

With 17,000 active members, we at ATD are committed to helping special needs kids, adults, and elderly people find love, care, and support. Our network of well-trained therapy dogs and their caretakers are always willing to make others smile and feel loved and wanted.

For more information, call us a t 307-432-0272 or contact us today.


Tailor-made technology

Robots may offer certain advantages that other technology does not. "With a physical robot, you learn much faster than you would from a character on a screen," Scassellati says. People are also more compliant when a robot asks them to do something.

In one amusing illustration of this tendency, Scassellati and colleagues used a robot to direct volunteers to shelve books in an office — and put a pile of new textbooks in the trashcan. Half of the participants received instructions from a robot that was in the room with them, while the rest took orders from the same robot broadcast in real time on a video screen (International Journal of Social Robotics, 2010). "With the real robot, more than 70 percent of people threw the books away, no questions asked. With the same robot making the same gestures but on [video], only about 20 percent did it," he says. "When we're asking people to do something hard, we want that leverage."

Still, researchers have a lot of questions to sort out before we welcome a fleet of social robots into our daily lives. Any kind of behavior change takes time, and robots need to be pretty sophisticated to hold a person's interest over the long term. "We know how to build things that are durable enough and expressive enough," Scassellati says. "The challenge is in terms of putting enough intelligence into a robot so it can really be engaging and motivating over a period of weeks or months."

It's hard enough for a person to understand what makes another person tick. But robotics developers need to tell a machine how to figure out what's going on in a person's head — and then respond accordingly. That's an enormous challenge, says Feil-Seifer.

Social cues can be subtle, but it's important that socially assistive robots give and receive such cues in ways that are both expected and helpful. While working with the bubblebot, for instance, Feil-Seifer realized that the robot would take the most efficient path when moving across the room. But a child could easily feel snubbed by a robot zipping away. To counteract that, he programmed in pauses in which the robot would stop and wait for the child to catch up. "That's a nice social cue that the robot was trying to maintain connection," he says. "Interaction is fragile and we don't ever want to break that."

Another issue is determining what physical form the robot should take. Is a fluffy seal the best choice? A cartoonish dragon? A humanoid with a friendly face? "There's not one form that's right for everything we want to do. A robot that helps a child learn social skills will probably look different from one that helps a 40-year-old quit smoking," Scassellati says.

Yet while such questions are important, Mataric adds, the field won't move forward if researchers get hung up on every detail. Though it may be uncomfortable for scientists to accept, she says, traditional research that tries to look at each element of human-robot interaction one at a time is all but impossible. "Human social interaction is incredibly rich, and we can't control all these factors," she says.

She thinks of socially assistive robots as a kind of personalized behavioral health care. "I really think we're doing a disservice to people with special needs when we are seeking solutions for everybody," she says. With 3-D printing and similar fast-evolving technologies, kids will soon be able to design their own robots, she says. "I don't want to worry about whether an oval head or round head is best. Who cares if it has seven ears, if it works for the kid?"

Robot behavior, too, could be customized. While working with children with autism in Mataric's lab, Feil-Seifer saw that some responded well to the robot while others did not. He developed a computer program that recognized within two seconds whether or not the child was having a positive interaction. This kind of early-detection system could be used in the future to turn any number of robot features on or off depending on how a person responds to them.

As robotics researchers continue to develop new and better systems for socially assistive robots, psychologists can offer important insight into the complexities of human behavior. "Technologists, psychologists, neuroscientists: We all have to shed the arrogance of our own specific field and work together," says Mataric. "It's way too soon to make any conclusions, but it is absolutely time to invest in really developing these technologies to see how they can complement human care — because the need is huge."


Autistic Children Find Help through Virtual Reality Therapy

Children with autism and Asperger’s often have phobias that limit their interaction with others. One child may be fearful of any social gathering, another of going shopping, while someone else may be afraid heights or be terrified to be in a crowd of people. These phobias can be so difficult for the child to experience, that often family members will go out of their way to avoid a situation they know will trigger the child’s fears. Additionally, children with Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorders often have trouble with safety boundaries that others take for granted, such as needing to stay within their own yard or being able to cross a street without harm. But, studies are showing that the new field of virtual reality therapy can help autistic children learn to manage everyday situations, allowing them to live a more normal life.

How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Work?

Virtual reality therapy (VR therapy) is a computer-based simulation of the world around us. It is multi-sensory, providing both visual and auditory environments that can be configured to mimic a setting. By going through VR therapy, an autistic child can challenge and overcome their fears in a safe setting and in a way that gives them control.

With virtual reality therapy, a simulated environment allows the child to use an avatar to interact with others. Reminiscent of a video game, the children move their avatar through the program while a therapist views the session and provides coaching and feedback to the child. The kids have the ability to pause, repeat, or review their avatar’s interaction inside the setting until they feel confident about the situation.

How Can VR Therapy Help Autistic Children?

Among other applications, virtual reality therapy is being used to teach or enhance social cognition skills and emotion recognition to help children with autism become more comfortable in social settings. Social interaction is often a source of discomfort for autistic children because the syndrome keeps them from picking up on the subtle social signals most people take for granted. In fact, Daniel Smith, the senior director of discovery science at Autism Speaks has said, “Virtual reality and avatar-based programs may be especially promising for people with autism who are uncomfortable in social interactions where subtle social cues are important.”

Studies have proven that virtual reality therapy can actually rewire the regions of the brain that relate to social skills. VR therapy also amplifies those areas that relate to attention and information exchange. The result is an increased understanding and awareness of social signals and a higher perception of the back and forth exchanges that is the foundation of conversation.

In addition to teaching social skills for circumstances such as attending school, sitting for a job interview, going to the mall, or going on a date, VR therapy has helped teens and children overcome more physical situations involving things like a fear of heights, phobias surrounding crowds, and traveling on a school bus. Because the virtual simulations can be configured to show real-world settings, they can be adapted to conform to each child’s specific fears.

For example: for a child who is afraid of heights, VR therapy can create a situation in which the child – via their avatar – experiences riding an escalator or crossing a bridge. The scenario introduces the child to the situation slowly and increases the stimulus as they learn to desensitize their fear and build up their tolerance. The child is given encouragement and feedback by a child psychologist and has full control of the scene, so they can turn back or go to an earlier (less frightening) version whenever they need to.

After working through these phobias, the children are able to transfer their new skills to real-life situations – something that is usually difficult for autistic children because they focus on details instead of intangible perspectives. By targeting a child’s specific fears, virtual reality therapy provides real world scenarios with immediate feedback, which greatly enhances the child’s ability to cope under stress.

Need More Information about Autism and Virtual Reality Therapy?

Our warm and welcoming Children’s Center offers a wide range of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services specifically for children ages two through twenty two.

For more information about how our skilled professional can use virtual reality therapy to help with your child’s autism, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.


Can Therapy Dogs Help Kids With Autism?

TUESDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthDay News) -- For children with autism, trained dogs may offer not only a furry friend, but some therapeutic benefits, too, a new research review finds.

There is a "substantial body of evidence" that dogs act as "social catalysts," even encouraging adults to be a little friendlier to each other, said senior researcher Francesca Cirulli, of the National Institute of Health in Rome, Italy. And the few studies that have focused on kids with autism suggest the same is true for them.

People have long turned to animals as a way to help with health conditions or disabilities -- either as part of formal therapy or to offer everyday assistance (such as guide dogs for the blind).

In some cases, "therapy" or "service" dogs are called into action to help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) -- a group of developmental brain disorders that hinder a child's ability to communicate and interact socially. ASDs range from the severe cases of "classic" autism to the relatively mild form called Asperger's syndrome.

Continued

In the United States, it's estimated that about one in 88 children has some form of autism.

Yet there has been little research into whether trained dogs actually benefit those kids. The good news is, the existing evidence is promising, according to the new review, published in the February issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

However, "it is early to draw final conclusions," said Cirulli.

Specifically, Cirulli's team found six published studies of dogs' effects on children with an autism spectrum disorder. Four of them looked at therapy dogs -- dogs that therapists use during formal sessions to help children settle in, get engaged and be more open to communicating.

Overall, the studies were positive, Cirulli and her colleagues found.

In one study of 22 children, for example, kids were more talkative and socially engaged during therapy sessions where a dog was present. In another study, of 12 boys, the children were less aggressive and smiled more when their therapy session included a canine companion.

Continued

Two studies focused on service dogs -- trained dogs that live with the family. The animals serve mainly to keep kids with autism safe when the family goes out, the child will be literally tethered to the dog to keep from running off or getting hurt.

"That can be a huge relief for families," said Dr. Melissa Nishawala, medical director of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinical and Research Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Parents' anxiety over their child's safety can lead to social isolation in some cases, noted Nishawala, who was not involved in the study. "Your world can get very small," she said, "because you limit where you go."

So a service dog can make a big difference to the whole family, Nishawala said.

Cirulli's team found that service dogs might also benefit children's behavior. In the two studies they reviewed, parents generally said their children were better behaved and more attentive after the family got a service dog.

Continued

There are still plenty of questions, though -- about both therapy dogs and service dogs.

For one, children with an autism spectrum disorder vary widely in the types of issues they have and their severity. No one is sure which kids might benefit most from time with a trained pooch, Nishawala noted.

She said more studies are needed -- not only larger ones, but also ones with better "definitions." That means making sure the children involved have been formally diagnosed with a form of autism, defining what the "therapy" is, and being clear about what outcomes the study is assessing.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that a dog could help bring a child with autism out of his shell, said Nishawala, but scientific evidence is just coming in.

Cirulli agreed that better defined studies are key.

It's possible, Cirulli noted, that a dog could have negative effects on some kids with an autism spectrum disorder. An animal might, for instance, increase "hyper" behavior.

For parents wondering whether adopting a dog is a good idea, the answer seems to be, "It depends."

Continued

Cirulli pointed out that these studies focused on dogs trained to be around children with autism. So the findings cannot be assumed to apply to your average Fido.

You might first want to see how your child reacts to a friend's or neighbor's dog, Cirulli suggested.

"Getting a dog could be a nice thing for the family," Nishawala agreed. "It could be therapeutic for everyone."

If you are interested in a trained service dog, be prepared for an investment. It costs about $20,000 to train a dog, and the family would have to foot much of that bill.

Autism Service Dogs of America has more on which kids might benefit from a canine companion.


Can Therapy Dogs Help Kids With Autism?

TUESDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthDay News) -- For children with autism, trained dogs may offer not only a furry friend, but some therapeutic benefits, too, a new research review finds.

There is a "substantial body of evidence" that dogs act as "social catalysts," even encouraging adults to be a little friendlier to each other, said senior researcher Francesca Cirulli, of the National Institute of Health in Rome, Italy. And the few studies that have focused on kids with autism suggest the same is true for them.

People have long turned to animals as a way to help with health conditions or disabilities -- either as part of formal therapy or to offer everyday assistance (such as guide dogs for the blind).

In some cases, "therapy" or "service" dogs are called into action to help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) -- a group of developmental brain disorders that hinder a child's ability to communicate and interact socially. ASDs range from the severe cases of "classic" autism to the relatively mild form called Asperger's syndrome.

Continued

In the United States, it's estimated that about one in 88 children has some form of autism.

Yet there has been little research into whether trained dogs actually benefit those kids. The good news is, the existing evidence is promising, according to the new review, published in the February issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

However, "it is early to draw final conclusions," said Cirulli.

Specifically, Cirulli's team found six published studies of dogs' effects on children with an autism spectrum disorder. Four of them looked at therapy dogs -- dogs that therapists use during formal sessions to help children settle in, get engaged and be more open to communicating.

Overall, the studies were positive, Cirulli and her colleagues found.

In one study of 22 children, for example, kids were more talkative and socially engaged during therapy sessions where a dog was present. In another study, of 12 boys, the children were less aggressive and smiled more when their therapy session included a canine companion.

Continued

Two studies focused on service dogs -- trained dogs that live with the family. The animals serve mainly to keep kids with autism safe when the family goes out, the child will be literally tethered to the dog to keep from running off or getting hurt.

"That can be a huge relief for families," said Dr. Melissa Nishawala, medical director of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinical and Research Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Parents' anxiety over their child's safety can lead to social isolation in some cases, noted Nishawala, who was not involved in the study. "Your world can get very small," she said, "because you limit where you go."

So a service dog can make a big difference to the whole family, Nishawala said.

Cirulli's team found that service dogs might also benefit children's behavior. In the two studies they reviewed, parents generally said their children were better behaved and more attentive after the family got a service dog.

Continued

There are still plenty of questions, though -- about both therapy dogs and service dogs.

For one, children with an autism spectrum disorder vary widely in the types of issues they have and their severity. No one is sure which kids might benefit most from time with a trained pooch, Nishawala noted.

She said more studies are needed -- not only larger ones, but also ones with better "definitions." That means making sure the children involved have been formally diagnosed with a form of autism, defining what the "therapy" is, and being clear about what outcomes the study is assessing.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that a dog could help bring a child with autism out of his shell, said Nishawala, but scientific evidence is just coming in.

Cirulli agreed that better defined studies are key.

It's possible, Cirulli noted, that a dog could have negative effects on some kids with an autism spectrum disorder. An animal might, for instance, increase "hyper" behavior.

For parents wondering whether adopting a dog is a good idea, the answer seems to be, "It depends."

Continued

Cirulli pointed out that these studies focused on dogs trained to be around children with autism. So the findings cannot be assumed to apply to your average Fido.

You might first want to see how your child reacts to a friend's or neighbor's dog, Cirulli suggested.

"Getting a dog could be a nice thing for the family," Nishawala agreed. "It could be therapeutic for everyone."

If you are interested in a trained service dog, be prepared for an investment. It costs about $20,000 to train a dog, and the family would have to foot much of that bill.

Autism Service Dogs of America has more on which kids might benefit from a canine companion.


Autistic Children Find Help through Virtual Reality Therapy

Children with autism and Asperger’s often have phobias that limit their interaction with others. One child may be fearful of any social gathering, another of going shopping, while someone else may be afraid heights or be terrified to be in a crowd of people. These phobias can be so difficult for the child to experience, that often family members will go out of their way to avoid a situation they know will trigger the child’s fears. Additionally, children with Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorders often have trouble with safety boundaries that others take for granted, such as needing to stay within their own yard or being able to cross a street without harm. But, studies are showing that the new field of virtual reality therapy can help autistic children learn to manage everyday situations, allowing them to live a more normal life.

How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Work?

Virtual reality therapy (VR therapy) is a computer-based simulation of the world around us. It is multi-sensory, providing both visual and auditory environments that can be configured to mimic a setting. By going through VR therapy, an autistic child can challenge and overcome their fears in a safe setting and in a way that gives them control.

With virtual reality therapy, a simulated environment allows the child to use an avatar to interact with others. Reminiscent of a video game, the children move their avatar through the program while a therapist views the session and provides coaching and feedback to the child. The kids have the ability to pause, repeat, or review their avatar’s interaction inside the setting until they feel confident about the situation.

How Can VR Therapy Help Autistic Children?

Among other applications, virtual reality therapy is being used to teach or enhance social cognition skills and emotion recognition to help children with autism become more comfortable in social settings. Social interaction is often a source of discomfort for autistic children because the syndrome keeps them from picking up on the subtle social signals most people take for granted. In fact, Daniel Smith, the senior director of discovery science at Autism Speaks has said, “Virtual reality and avatar-based programs may be especially promising for people with autism who are uncomfortable in social interactions where subtle social cues are important.”

Studies have proven that virtual reality therapy can actually rewire the regions of the brain that relate to social skills. VR therapy also amplifies those areas that relate to attention and information exchange. The result is an increased understanding and awareness of social signals and a higher perception of the back and forth exchanges that is the foundation of conversation.

In addition to teaching social skills for circumstances such as attending school, sitting for a job interview, going to the mall, or going on a date, VR therapy has helped teens and children overcome more physical situations involving things like a fear of heights, phobias surrounding crowds, and traveling on a school bus. Because the virtual simulations can be configured to show real-world settings, they can be adapted to conform to each child’s specific fears.

For example: for a child who is afraid of heights, VR therapy can create a situation in which the child – via their avatar – experiences riding an escalator or crossing a bridge. The scenario introduces the child to the situation slowly and increases the stimulus as they learn to desensitize their fear and build up their tolerance. The child is given encouragement and feedback by a child psychologist and has full control of the scene, so they can turn back or go to an earlier (less frightening) version whenever they need to.

After working through these phobias, the children are able to transfer their new skills to real-life situations – something that is usually difficult for autistic children because they focus on details instead of intangible perspectives. By targeting a child’s specific fears, virtual reality therapy provides real world scenarios with immediate feedback, which greatly enhances the child’s ability to cope under stress.

Need More Information about Autism and Virtual Reality Therapy?

Our warm and welcoming Children’s Center offers a wide range of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services specifically for children ages two through twenty two.

For more information about how our skilled professional can use virtual reality therapy to help with your child’s autism, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.


Tailor-made technology

Robots may offer certain advantages that other technology does not. "With a physical robot, you learn much faster than you would from a character on a screen," Scassellati says. People are also more compliant when a robot asks them to do something.

In one amusing illustration of this tendency, Scassellati and colleagues used a robot to direct volunteers to shelve books in an office — and put a pile of new textbooks in the trashcan. Half of the participants received instructions from a robot that was in the room with them, while the rest took orders from the same robot broadcast in real time on a video screen (International Journal of Social Robotics, 2010). "With the real robot, more than 70 percent of people threw the books away, no questions asked. With the same robot making the same gestures but on [video], only about 20 percent did it," he says. "When we're asking people to do something hard, we want that leverage."

Still, researchers have a lot of questions to sort out before we welcome a fleet of social robots into our daily lives. Any kind of behavior change takes time, and robots need to be pretty sophisticated to hold a person's interest over the long term. "We know how to build things that are durable enough and expressive enough," Scassellati says. "The challenge is in terms of putting enough intelligence into a robot so it can really be engaging and motivating over a period of weeks or months."

It's hard enough for a person to understand what makes another person tick. But robotics developers need to tell a machine how to figure out what's going on in a person's head — and then respond accordingly. That's an enormous challenge, says Feil-Seifer.

Social cues can be subtle, but it's important that socially assistive robots give and receive such cues in ways that are both expected and helpful. While working with the bubblebot, for instance, Feil-Seifer realized that the robot would take the most efficient path when moving across the room. But a child could easily feel snubbed by a robot zipping away. To counteract that, he programmed in pauses in which the robot would stop and wait for the child to catch up. "That's a nice social cue that the robot was trying to maintain connection," he says. "Interaction is fragile and we don't ever want to break that."

Another issue is determining what physical form the robot should take. Is a fluffy seal the best choice? A cartoonish dragon? A humanoid with a friendly face? "There's not one form that's right for everything we want to do. A robot that helps a child learn social skills will probably look different from one that helps a 40-year-old quit smoking," Scassellati says.

Yet while such questions are important, Mataric adds, the field won't move forward if researchers get hung up on every detail. Though it may be uncomfortable for scientists to accept, she says, traditional research that tries to look at each element of human-robot interaction one at a time is all but impossible. "Human social interaction is incredibly rich, and we can't control all these factors," she says.

She thinks of socially assistive robots as a kind of personalized behavioral health care. "I really think we're doing a disservice to people with special needs when we are seeking solutions for everybody," she says. With 3-D printing and similar fast-evolving technologies, kids will soon be able to design their own robots, she says. "I don't want to worry about whether an oval head or round head is best. Who cares if it has seven ears, if it works for the kid?"

Robot behavior, too, could be customized. While working with children with autism in Mataric's lab, Feil-Seifer saw that some responded well to the robot while others did not. He developed a computer program that recognized within two seconds whether or not the child was having a positive interaction. This kind of early-detection system could be used in the future to turn any number of robot features on or off depending on how a person responds to them.

As robotics researchers continue to develop new and better systems for socially assistive robots, psychologists can offer important insight into the complexities of human behavior. "Technologists, psychologists, neuroscientists: We all have to shed the arrogance of our own specific field and work together," says Mataric. "It's way too soon to make any conclusions, but it is absolutely time to invest in really developing these technologies to see how they can complement human care — because the need is huge."


Nine Ways Therapy Dogs Can Help Kids with Autism

Life for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities can be challenging. ASD causes developmental impairment that often leads to other issues like rigid behavior, narrow range of interests, social withdrawal, and anxiety. Children with ASD often have short attention spans and difficulties with social communication.

There are various therapies and behavioral management programs available to offer support to children living with this neurological and developmental disorder. While some therapists focus on developing communication skills of ASD patients, others stress reducing the problematic behaviors associated with autism. In addition to this, there is something else that is helping people with autism – spending time with therapy dogs .

Therapy Dogs for the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder

According to Francesca Cirulli, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Health, Italy, many studies show that dogs work as social catalysts by encouraging people to bond with each other. A few studies have found this notion true in terms of kids with autism.

A review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine has shown evidence that therapy dogs can play a crucial role in helping autistic patients develop communication and social skills. The team reviewed six published studies that covered the effects of dogs on children with autism. Out of the six studies, four were on therapy dogs that assisted therapists during the treatment sessions. The was found that autistic children were more vocal and engaged in the sessions when dogs were around.

Another study that reviewed the behavior of 22 autistic children revealed that children were more engaged and talkative during sessions where dogs were present. A separate study showed that children who had therapy dogs during the session were less aggressive and more friendly.

You see, therapy dogs can assist autistic children by making them feel socially and emotionally secure. These trained furry friends can help in improving the emotional wellbeing of the child and further aid in developing their sensory integration.

Advantages of Therapy Dogs in Treating ASD

Social Engagement

Kids with autism experience some difficulty in socializing with others. A therapy dog can help an autistic child to break the ice and motivate them to mingle with others. When needed, therapy dogs can divert the attention of autistic kids away from distractions and help focus on a task.

Calm During Meltdowns

Therapy dogs have the ability to sense and feel the emotions of people they are attending to. A therapy dog can sometimes reduce the severity or totally circumvent the onset of a meltdown during a visit.

Cognitive and Emotional Growth

Autistic kids sometimes lack cognitive skills. Their rigid behavior often makes it difficult for them to form an emotional connection with others. Since therapy dogs promote positive feelings of care, love, and empathy in kids with autism. Therapy dogs love to be hugged, touched, and cuddled by children which further instills the feeling of care in autistic kids.

Sensory Support

Children with autism need sensory stimulation through regular games and activities. Therapy dogs can be trained to assist autistic children throughout the process by means of various games and activities like, tug of war, hide and seek, and massage.

Reassurance During Anxiety

A therapy dog can make a perfect companion to battle a sudden bout of anxiety and restlessness during a visit. Therapy dogs are known for offering relief from stress. The presence of therapy dogs offers a sense of security for autistic kids. .

Improved Vocal Skills

Autistic kids have impaired communication skills. It has been noted that such kids speak more frequently when a therapy dog is around. A therapy dog can bring significant change in speech challenged or nonverbal children by promoting their speech.

Companionship

Autistic kids have difficulty in making eye contact. This developmental disorder also prevents them from socializing and bonding with others. However, therapy dogs have the ability to quickly bond with children. This helps the child experience friendship and cope up with loneliness. Unlike human friends, therapy dogs are non-judgemental, which further helps an autistic child become comfortable around others.

Autism is as stressful for families as it is for the child suffering from it. However, therapy dogs don’t just help autism kids battle the disorder, but they also help parents and families to find peace and strength. Studies have shown that the support from therapy dogs can help parents of an autistic child feel relaxed and experience less stress.

With 17,000 active members, we at ATD are committed to helping special needs kids, adults, and elderly people find love, care, and support. Our network of well-trained therapy dogs and their caretakers are always willing to make others smile and feel loved and wanted.

For more information, call us a t 307-432-0272 or contact us today.


About the Authors

Jonathan A. Weiss, PhD, clinical psychologist, is an associate professor of psychology at York University (Toronto, Ontario). He holds a chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research, with a research focus on the prevention and treatment of mental health problems across the life course. He is currently a member-at-large for APA Div. 33 (2015-2017).

Jason K. Baker, PhD, is an assistant professor of child and adolescent studies and founding co-director of the Center for Autism at the California State University, Fullerton. His research is focused on how child and family factors interrelate to promote the social-emotional development of children with ASD, and Baker was member-at-large for APA Div. 33 from 2014-2016.

Eric M. Butter, PhD, is chief of psychology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio and director of both the Child Development Center and the Department of Pediatric Psychology and Neuropsychology. He is jointly appointed as an associate professor of pediatrics in the College of Medicine and of Psychology at the Ohio State University and is a site director for the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network. His research focus has been on parent training in autism and ADHD, genetic and psychological characterization of children with ASD, psychological assessment of youth with autism or related disorders, and psychosocial and pharmacological interventions for autism. Butter is currently the membership chair and council representative (2016-2019) for APA Div. 33.


How Pet Therapy Can Help Autism

Animal-assisted therapy may increase self-confidence and other skills in children with autism.

Man’s best friend can truly be your child’s best friend, according to some studies on the interaction between pets and autistic children.

Many parents are surprised to see the connection between their autistic child and animals. You might see it happening spontaneously — just when you are wondering how to help improve your child's communication and social skills, you notice that he acts playful, happier, and more focused when around a friend's pet. Or perhaps you have heard about the profound impact animals can have on some children with autism from another parent. Whatever prompts you, it may be time to introduce your autistic child to the wide world of animals.

Animal-Assisted Therapy for Autism

Being around household pets or having structured contact with animals can be a great addition to treatment for children with autism. There are many reports from both parents and clinicians that interacting with animals, formally called animal-assisted therapy, can offer both physical and emotional benefits to children with autism.

Animal-assisted therapy can be as simple as bringing a family pet into the household or as structured as programs that offer horseback riding or swimming with dolphins. Interaction with animals can help children with autism become more physically developed and improve their strength, coordination, and physical abilities. More importantly, many people derive much joy from their relationship with animals, which can help autistic children have a better sense of well-being and more self-confidence.

Animals can be amazing for children with autism, says Colleen Dolnick, a mother in Town and Country, Mo., who has a 10-year-old son with autism. "Animals can relate to these children. And these children, who have a hard time relating to peers, can really relate to animals."

Animals and Autism: What the Research Says

While more research is still needed to determine the effects and confirm the benefits of animal-assisted therapy specifically for children with autism, a number of studies have suggested it could help. In the 1970s, psychologist and researcher David Nathanson began studying how interactions with dolphins affected children with disabilities. Nathanson found that being around dolphins could increase a child's attention, enhance their thinking, help them learn faster, and retain information longer.

More recently, a study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research looked at the effects of interacting with dogs on children with autism spectrum disorders. For the study, children were exposed to a ball, a stuffed dog, or a live dog under the supervision of a therapist. The children who played with the live dog were in a better mood and more aware of their surroundings than the children who were exposed to the ball or stuffed dog.

Trying Animal-Assisted Therapy With Your Autistic Child

If you are interested in animal-assisted therapy for your child, talk with your child's doctor. There may be horseback-riding, dolphin-therapy, or other animal-therapy programs in your area that the doctor could refer you to.

If you are ready to make the commitment of bringing a pet into your home, you may want to consider a service dog that has been specially trained to work with children with autism. These dogs can be wonderful additions to families of autistic children and can even accompany children when they are away from home, such as at school, helping to keep them calm and comforted. For more information, contact an organization such as Autism Service Dogs of America.

Pets quickly become a treasured member of the family, offering love and companionship. And for the family that includes a child with autism, the rewards can be even greater.


American Heart Association Abstract 2513 (Download PDF)

John Hopkins University, 2018 (Download PDF)

DALLAS, Nov. 15 - When it comes to health care, "going to the dogs" is a good thing, according to new research reported at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2005.

Researchers discovered that a 12-minute visit with man's best friend helped heart and lung function by lowering pressures, diminishing release of harmful hormones and decreasing anxiety among hospitalized heart failure patients. Benefits exceeded those that resulted from a visit with a human volunteer or from being left alone.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been shown to reduce blood pressure in healthy and hypertensive patients. It reduces anxiety in hospitalized patients, too.

Still, the therapeutic approach of using dogs to soothe people's minds and improve health has been considered more a "nicety" than credible science, said Kathie M. Cole, R.N., M.N., C.C.R.N., lead author of the study and a clinical nurse III at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

To determine the potential benefits of animal-assisted therapy on health, the researchers studied 76 hospitalized heart failure patients and their reactions to a visit from either a human volunteer and dog team, a human volunteer only or no visit (the at-rest group). Patients were randomly assigned to one of these three approaches.

"We looked at the dogs' effects on variables that characterize heart failure, including changes in cardiac function, neuroendocrine (stress hormone) activation and psychological changes in mood," Cole said.

The intervention lasted 12 minutes. In the volunteer-dog team group, specially trained dogs (of 12 different breeds) would lie on patients' beds, so patients could touch them while interacting with the volunteer-dog team.

Researchers monitored patients' hemodynamics - the collective system of measurement for blood volume, heart function and resistance of the blood vessels. They measured hemodynamic pressures just before the 12-minute intervention, eight minutes into the intervention and four minutes after the intervention. Investigators also measured epinephrine and norepinephrine levels at these three time points, and administered an anxiety test before and after the intervention.

Researchers found that anxiety scores dropped 24 percent for participants who received a visit from the volunteer-dog team. Scores for the volunteer-only group dropped 10 percent and the at-rest group's score did not change. Researchers measured anxiety with the Spielberger's self report state anxiety inventory.

Levels of the stress hormone epinephrine dropped an average 14.1 picograms/mL or 17 percent in the volunteer-dog team group 2 percent in the volunteer-only group and rose an average of 7 percent in the at-rest group.

Pulmonary capillary wedge, the measurement of left atrial pressure, dropped an average 2.1 mmHg, or 10 percent, at the end of the intervention for those receiving volunteer-dog team therapy. However, it increased 3 percent for the volunteer-only group and increased 5 percent for the at-rest group.

Systolic pulmonary artery pressure, a measure of pressure in the lungs, dropped in the volunteer-dog team group 5 percent during and 5 percent after therapy. It rose during and after therapy in the other two groups.

The volunteer-dog team group showed more improvement than the volunteer-only group in right atrial pressure, norepinephrine level and heart rate.

"This study demonstrates that even a short-term exposure to dogs has beneficial physiological and psychosocial effects on patients who want it," Cole said. "This therapy warrants serious consideration as an adjunct to medical therapy in hospitalized heart failure patients. Dogs are a great comfort. They make people happier, calmer and feel more loved. That is huge when you are scared and not feeling well."

Co-authors are Anna Gawlinski, R.N., D.N.Sc., and Neil Steers, Ph.D.

Statements and conclusions of study authors that are published in the American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect association policy or position. The American Heart Association makes no representation or warranty as to their accuracy or reliability.

Notes: This study is the first randomized Animal-assisted therapy trial to look at subjects with severe heart failure in the critical care setting. Norepinephrine and epinephrine catecholamines have not been looked at before in addition to the cardiopulmonary measurements utilzing a pulmonary artery catheter.

Twelve different breeds participated which helps to add external validity to that portion of the study. The breeds happened to include two golden retrievers, 1 Great Pyrenese, 1 Std poodle, 1 German shephard, 1 dachshund, 2 labrador retrievers, 1 irish setter, 1 Bernese Mountain dog, 1 border collie, 1 miniature schnauzer.

No incidents or negative encounters have occurred with the dogs certified in the People Aninmal Connection Program at UCLA Medical Center.


Autism and Pets: More Evidence of Social Benefits

A new study lends support to the idea that interacting with a pet benefits many children with autism. However, the author emphasizes the need to consider each child’s sensitivities as well as family dynamics in carefully considering pet ownership.

The study, published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, surveyed parents of children who had autism about the children’s interactions with dogs. Nearly two thirds of the families owned a dog. Of these, 94 percent said their child bonded strongly with the pet. Even in the families without dogs, 7 in 10 parents said their child enjoyed interacting with dogs.

Previous research involving children with autism found that those who had a family pet from a young age tended to have greater social skills. Still other research has shown how social behaviors in children who have autism temporarily improve after even a short play period with a live animal such as a guinea pig (versus a toy). A number of Autism Speaks Community Grants have supported successful equine-therapy programs for children with autism.

“Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship,” says the new study’s author, Gretchen Carlisle. Dr. Carlisle is a research fellow with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.


The Role of the Pediatric Physical Therapist for Children on the Autism Spectrum

The role of pediatric physical therapy is to help children who have difficulty with functional movement, poor balance, and challenges moving through their environment successfully. Some children on the autism spectrum have low muscle tone, some have poor balance, others may not be well-coordinated, and still others may have a combination of all of the above. These are all areas that a physical therapist can address. After an assessment, the physical therapist will design and implement a program that will help to improve the individual child’s areas of need and increase overall function and participation.

(Many children or adults who have an accident and hurt themselves can benefit from physical therapy, whether they are diagnosed with ASD or not. This article does not address this type of rehabilitative therapy.)

Physical Therapy Areas of Intervention

  • Gross Motor Skills – using large muscles for sitting, standing, walking, running, etc.
  • Balance/Coordination Skills – involves the brain, bones, and muscles in a coordinated effort for smooth movement for example, as in climbing stairs, jumping, etc.
  • Strengthening – building muscle for support and endurance for example, to walk for a distance without becoming tired.
  • Functional Mobility/Motor Planning – moving through space, day to day, for independence and efficiency for example, to climb onto the rocking chair and make it rock back and forth.

The Importance of Motor Skills

Gross motor skills enable children to explore and learn from their environment. Young babies’ neck muscles develop, allowing them to hold their head up and see things from an upright position. Trunk muscles strengthen, enabling children to sit and soon after crawl and begin to explore their surroundings on their own. Toddlers learn to walk, climb, and eventually run. As children become adults, motor skills continue to be important for independence.

What is the Goal of Physical Therapy for a Child on the Autism Spectrum?

Every child on the autism spectrum is unique. Not every child on the spectrum will need physical therapy. If physical therapy is found to be medically necessary and the child could benefit from physical therapy services, a program will specifically be designed for his or her needs.

A licensed physical therapist (PT) or certified physical therapy assistant (CPTA), supervised by a PT, may implement treatment for a child who meets eligibility criteria for physical therapy services within an Early Intervention or school program. Physical therapy is also available as an outpatient service.

Where Does Treatment Occur?

Physical therapy for children on the autism spectrum (or other special needs populations) can occur in a variety of places including the home, school, or outpatient clinic setting. Physical therapy provided as an educational service will take place at the child’s school. Children under age 3 who are elibible for physical therapy through the Early Intervention system, will receive therapy in their “Natural Environment” (usually their home or daycare but where ever they typically spend time). Families may also elect to seek outpatient services in a hospital or clinic.

What Does a Treatment Session Look Like?

Since children learn through play, physical therapists use child-friendly, specially chosen toys and activities to motivate and encourage their students or patients to participate in therapy. Typically you will find balls, swings, and slides in a pediatric therapy gym. Children are encouraged to have fun while they work hard to accomplish the tasks their therapists set for them.

In Early Intervention, the focus is to coach and educate families and caregivers on how to use physical therapy activities to encourage increased participation in the child’s routines at home and in the community. For example, this may include helping a child to learn to move as independently as possible throughout his home and at the playground. School-based physical therapy supports the child’s ability to get around the building and classroom in order to access to the educational program and promote learning.

How Often Can Treatment Occur?

If your child receives services through the education system (Early Intervention, Preschool, or School-Age), the frequency of services are determined by the child’s IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) or IEP (Individualized Educational Program)team, based on your child’s identified needs. Length of treatment sessions, number of times per week, and the goals of therapy will be discussed and agreed upon at the IEP or IFSP meeting. As part of these teams, parents and caretakers contribute to the making of these decisions.

In a clinic setting, the treatment is determined by the referring physician, parent/caretaker, and therapist. The amount of therapy provided by the child’s health insurance may also influence the frequency of services.


Watch the video: Why Does Pet Therapy Work? Its Not Just Cute Dogs (June 2022).


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