The purpose of this study is to test an animal-assisted social skills intervention for children with high functioning autism spectrum disorders. The specific objectives of this study are to increase children’s ability to communicate effectively by developing their skill in reading the non-verbal cues of others.
Findings showed that the inclusion of dogs in social skills training was more effective than traditional programs. Specifically, participants who received the animal-assisted social skills intervention exhibited fewer social skills deficits overall, fewer restricted and repetitive behaviors, and more typical social communication following the intervention. The study also found that participants who received the animal-assisted social skills intervention exhibited a greater level of change in social skills, perspective taking, theory of mind, and decreased feelings of isolation and depression. Overall, this study provides preliminary evidence that social skills training with dogs is an effective approach for youth with ASD and it seems to support the movement toward including socially motivating experiences into ASD treatments.