Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a common, incurable neurodevelopmental disorder impairing the individual’s capacity of social communication and interaction. There is not any pharmacological treatment available for this disorder affecting about 1% of children worldwide, which creates a need for complementary therapeutic interventions for ASD management. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been proved as effective for the management of other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders – such as ADHD and depression. This suggests that children suffering from ASD could also benefit from this therapy.
The purpose of this thesis is to describe the different kinds of animal-assisted therapy implemented on children with ASD, as well as describing the outcomes of the therapy in children with autism spectrum disorder. The methodology employed for this thesis was literature review with an inductive analysis of qualitative data. Two databases (Laurea Finna and Helka) were used to retrieve the articles to be used as a source of data for the review. A total of nine articles were included after several selection phases.
The findings for the first research question (‘’What kinds of AAT have been implemented on chil-dren with ASD?’’) were grouped into two main categories: therapeutic riding and animal-assisted play therapy. The data answering to the second research question (‘’What have the outcomes of AAT been in children with ASD?’’) was classified into four sub-categories (improvement in self-regulation, improvement in social skills, improvement in motor skills and improvement in executive skills), and it was deduced that the therapy is potentially beneficial for the child’s overall development.
Many of the studies reviewed had a poor study design and made measurements from very different parameters. In addition, very little about AAT has been researched and no high quality, quantitative data about AAT is available. The polemic around AAT and the lack of agreement on its terminology further complicates drawing firm conclusions on animal-assisted therapy. Consequently, the author of this Bachelor’s thesis recommends more empirical research on AAT.