What are the benefits of animal assisted therapy?
Studies done suggest that animal assisted therapy has a number of benefits such as an increased attention span, an increase in self-confidence, transferable skills of empathy, and a better sense of well being.
More specifically in children who show more sensory related symptoms of autism, it also helps to overcome sensory defensiveness, and enhances problem solving skills while aiding the child find ways to relax and maintain a better state of mind. Spending time with animals or having a pet helps children on the autism spectrum learn about unconditional love, responsibility, and build and maintain social skills.
For example, the introduction of a dog to a child with ASD can result in a reduction of stress, anxiety, and irritation and can also promote a more relaxed environment for that child. Another study, analyzed the sensory and social benefits of therapeutic horseback riding on children with ASD. The results of this study showed that horseback riding had a positive effect on the children’s communication skills, along with a reduction in the severity of their ASD.
Various trials on the effects of AAT in ASD have been conducted. A systematic review by O’Haire on fourteen trials revealed that dogs and horses are the most commonly used therapy animals. This review found that there was no significant difference between the use of horses or dogs and all the studies showed improvements in one or more ASD related categories and symptoms.