Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurobiological disorder with no known cure, affecting approximately 1 in 68 children in the United States. It is primarily characterized by impairments in social and communication functioning along with restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. Most children with ASD have a co-occurring mental health condition, typically of anxiety and depression. Many of these children are treated in psychiatric hospital settings due to acute agitation involving dangerous behaviors. Preliminary evidence demonstrates that the use of animal-assisted activities (AAA) shows promise as a potential means for improving the mental health and wellness of children and adolescents with ASD in community settings.
The objective is to investigate the effect of canine AAA on physiological arousal levels in children and adolescents with ASD in a specialized psychiatric hospital program.
It is hypothesized that children with ASD will demonstrate lower physiological arousal in the presence of dogs, compared to a non-animal control.