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Calm with horses? A systematic review of animal-assisted interventions for improving social functioning in children with autism

By J. H. Sissons, E. Blakemore, H. Shafi, N. Skotny, D. M. Lloyd

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Abstract

The aim of this systematic review was to evaluate the effect of animal-assisted interventions on social functioning in children with autism spectrum disorder, based on evidence from randomized control trials. Included studies were articles published in English, with school aged children from 4 to 18 years with autism spectrum disorder. Databases searched were MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, Web of Science, CINAHL and Zoological Record. Data extraction from included studies included demographics and sample features, interventions and controls descriptions, outcome measures, study funding and descriptive statistics. Risk of bias was assessed, considering randomization, allocation concealment, blinding, attrition, selective reporting and other sources of bias. Studies were synthesized narratively based on the animal approach taken and the use of waitlist versus active controls. Nine studies were included reporting across eight trials. Studies overall reported improvements in social functioning following equine-assisted services, with preliminary evidence suggesting improvements are sustained in the short and medium term. Insufficient evidence was available to draw conclusions on the efficacy of other animal-assisted interventions. Future research should aim to address the limitations common to included designs.

Date 2022
Publication Title Autism
Pages 13623613221085338
ISBN/ISSN 1362-3613
DOI 10.1177/13623613221085338
Author Address University of Leeds, UK.University of Manchester, UK.
Additional Language English
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Tags
  1. Animal-assisted interventions
  2. Autism
  3. open access
  4. social functions
  5. systematic reviews
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  1. open access