Children diagnosed and treated for cancer experience a profound life-transformation as they are confronted with unprecedented physical, psychosocial and emotional challenges. Children’s experience of diagnosis and treatment is often accompanied by a lack of participation and reduced control. Extensive research has been conducted on a variety of supportive interventions. Only a limited amount of research, however, has investigated the potential of animal-assisted activities (AAAs) to afford specialised support for the child hospitalised with cancer. Moreover, of this limited research, few studies explore AAAs in relation to participation and control. The purpose of this study was to explore and describe how participation and control are experienced during animal-assisted activities by children hospitalised with cancer. Paediatric oncology patients between the ages of 8 and 14 with any type of cancer were offered the opportunity to participate in the study, which comprised of animal-assisted activities at the facility where patients received their medical care. Five children were included in the final sample. Data were gathered by means of non-participant observations, participant interviews, graphic questionnaires and field notes. Data were then analysed in accordance with steps proposed by Tesch (1990: 142-145), which involved coding according to categories and related themes. Five major themes emerged, including (1) approach to animals, (2) body awareness, (3) level of engagement, (4) level of dependence and (5) communication. Nine sub-themes were derived from data analysis. Under “approach to animals”, the sub-themes were (i) taking the lead, (ii) grooming and affection and (iii) laughter and spontaneity. The sub-themes of “body awareness” were (iv) protection of body and (v) comfort. The sub-themes of “level of engagement” were (vi) initiative and (vii) choice. Finally, the sub-themes of “communication” were (viii) verbal communication and (ix) non-verbal communication. The study provides insight into the participation and control experienced during animal-assisted activities by children hospitalised with cancer. When the initial and final AAA sessions were compared, changes were noted in terms of the children’s approaches to the dog, their body awareness, their level of engagement, their level of dependence and their communication. These changes are associated with an enhanced sense of participation and control, aspects that are often reported to be diminished in children who are diagnosed, treated and hospitalised with cancer. AAAs should therefore be considered an effective means of supporting children hospitalised with cancer.
|Degree||Master of Arts|
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