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Therapeutic horseback riding crossover effects of attachment behaviors with family pets in a sample of children with autism spectrum disorder

Summary


Children with autism spectrum disorder show improved social interactions with pets after completing a therapeutic horseback riding intervention

The aim of this study was to determine whether a 10-week therapeutic horseback riding (THR) intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could crossover to positive changes in interactions with family pets. Two groups of children with ASD (ages 6-16) participated in the study. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups: one group completed the THR intervention; the other group completed a no-horse barn activity (BA) intervention. All participants had one or more pets in their home, with most of the pets being dogs. There were no significant differences between the two groups with respect to the children’ nonverbal intelligence-quotient (IQ), co-existing psychiatric diagnoses, number of pets, or type of pet in the home.

A consistent caregiver completed the “Child’s Attitude and Behavior toward Animals” (CABTA) questionnaire before and after the intervention. The CABTA, an instrument designed to assess a child’s behaviors related to animals, includes questions about the child’s history of being cruel to animals. Responses to fourteen questions from the CABTA were analyzed for purposes of this study. From these responses, two summary scores were calculated and analyzed: An animal attachment score (AATS) and an animal abuse score (AABS).

The AATS scores of children in the THR group significantly improved after intervention, while the AATS scores of children in the BA group showed no improvement. There were no statistically significant differences between the two groups in AABS scores. The change in the AATS scores of children participating in the THR intervention show a crossover effect of the program on children with ASD in more caring interactions with pets in the home. These results are consistent with previous research showing an increase in positive social interactions as a result of an animal-specific intervention for individuals with ASD. Professionals in the field of animal assisted intervention AAI would benefit from additional studies exploring if children with ASD can apply the social interaction skills they develop through an animal-specific intervention to other settings.

Citation

Petty, J.D., Pan, Z., Dechant, B., Gabriels, R.L., (2017). Therapeutic horseback riding crossover effects of attachment behaviors with family pets in a sample of children with autism spectrum disorder. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(256), 1-6.

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