ASD is a chronic and pervasive disorder that impacts up to 1 in 55 children in US. As ASD diagnoses continue to rise, so does the demand for effective treatments. Although there is no known cure for ASD, caregivers of children with ASD will often engage in several home and school-based treatment regimens to improve the child’s social skills, communication, and behavior. Preliminary research suggests that the service dog’s trained tasks and companionship may reduce children’s ASD symptomology and physiological arousal while decreasing caregiver burden and worry.
The long-term research goal is to evaluate and enhance the applicability of the human-animal bond as a complementary treatment for improving the wellbeing of special populations including children with ASD and their families. The specific goal of this project is to quantify the therapeutic effects of service dogs on children with ASD and their caregivers.
Researchers hypothesize that children with a service dog will have less severe ASD symptomology, including significantly higher social and communicative skills and less frequent interfering/problem behaviors, than matched wait-list controls;
That children with a service dog will have lower physiological arousal indexed by a lower cortisol awakening response as well as better sleep quality and bedtime habits than matched wait-list controls;
And that caregivers with a service dog will report less caregiving stress, better quality of life, and better sleep quality as well as higher overall family functioning than caregivers of match.
Using a cross-sectional design researchers will compare outcome measures between populations of children with ASD ages 5-12 and their caregivers with and without a service dog. Researchers will compare 50 families engaging in usual care that have an ASD service dog (treatment group) to 50 families engaging in usual care while on the waitlist to receive a service dog (control group).
Among children with ASD, researchers anticipate that having a service dog in the home will be associated with lower ASD symptomology including better social skills and fewer problem behaviors as well as lower morning cortisol and better sleep quality. Among caregivers, we expect that having a service dog will be associated with decreased caregiving stress, less health-related family impact, and better sleep quality.