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Green Chimneys Research in Animal-Assisted Interventions Underway

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July 24, 2014

More than six decades of experience treating children with psycho-social issues and incorporating animal-assisted interventions has Green Chimneys leadership and clinicians convinced of the benefits of human-animal interaction. But there is a deep need for empirical data and strong practice models to encourage greater use by treatment professionals. The Sam and Myra Ross Institute, a dynamic education and research component of Green Chimneys, has launched its first study to develop and test an empirically supported animal-assisted intervention by integrating dogs into social skills training for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Animal-Assisted Social Skills Training for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders is a 12-week study with 32 Green Chimneys students aged 8-15 who meet criteria for ASD. Of these students, 16 will participate in social skills development classes that incorporate two certified therapy dogs while classes for the other 16 will not have a dog present. Dogs will be accompanied by their owners, who are volunteering for the study.

“Children with ASD typically have deficits in communication, resulting in feelings of isolation due to specific difficulty in reading facial expressions, interpreting social cues, and perceiving thoughts and feelings of others,” says Primary Investigator Erica Rogers Ph.D. "The hypothesis of our study is that social skills training involving a dog will produce a more positive effect on a child’s moods and emotions than conventional skills training. We hope to demonstrate that animal-assisted interventions are a valid approach for teaching children with ASD the skills necessary to engage with peers, family members, and the larger community. This will also provide support for the role of the human-animal bond in advancing children with developmental delays.”

The study is funded through a $24K grant by the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI), a national, nonprofit foundation of animal-focused businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting the positive role animals play in the health and well being of people, families and communities.

“Green Chimneys’ long history of incorporating animal-assisted activities into therapeutic treatment for children makes it an ideal laboratory for conducting research in the area of human-animal interaction (HAI),” says Dr. Steven Klee, Green Chimneys Associate Executive Director, Clinical & Medical Services. “This grant from HABRI will help advance our understanding of HAI and add to the growing pool of data demonstrating the benefits of integrating animals into therapy.”

Participant recruitment and therapist training were conducted in early 2014. Therapeutic intervention, as well as pre- and post-assessment of study participants, and data analysis is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

For more information on this research, contact Dr. Steven Klee at sklee@greenchhimneys.org

Learn more about the work of The Sam & Myra Ross Institute >

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