Evaluating the Effects of Service Dogs on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Their Caregivers | HABRI

Evaluating the Effects of Service Dogs on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Their Caregivers

Principal Investigators

Marguerite E. O’Haire (Purdue University)
Evan L. MacLean (University of Arizona)
Mandy Rispoli (Purdue University)
Bridgette Tonnsen (Purdue University)

Rationale

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.

Objective

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.

Hypothesis

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.

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