Dolphin-assisted therapy has frequently been criticized for a lack of empirical results and theoretical foundation. In this study, results from an innovative dolphin-assisted therapy program for children with disabilities are presented. The therapeutic program is based on a sophisticated framework and developed with reference to previous findings about special education interventions. Parental involvement was integrated purposefully into the dolphin-child interaction to initiate an improvement in parent-child interactions. The effectiveness of this approach was supported in a controlled pretest-posttest design with matched samples. Pre-testing was conducted 4 weeks before dolphin-assisted therapy commenced, and post-testing occurred 4 weeks and 6 months after it finished. In total, 47 children with disabilities (Down syndrome, physical or mental retardation) and their parents and pedagogic-therapeutic staff participated in the study. The results of the parental questionnaires showed stable, positive changes in children's communicative abilities and social-emotional behavior and in parental quality of life, with mainly large effect sizes. These results exceed previously published effects from animal-assisted therapy and likewise of dolphin-assisted therapy. Data derived from staff questionnaires showed a moderate therapeutic effect on one of the three factors tested in relation to children's communicative abilities, but not on the social-emotional behavior of the child. Possible explanations for these findings are discussed.
|Author Address||Department of Psychology, Julius-Maximilians-University, Universitat Wurzburg, Lehrstuhl f. Psychologie IV, Rontgenring 10, 97070, Wurzburg, Germany.firstname.lastname@example.org|
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