New Research to Study Impact of Therapy Dogs On Stress and Academic Performance in Children with Autism

Human-Animal Bond Research Institute

“HABRI’s grant to Texas Tech University will help advance the science on the benefits of companion animals as a complimentary treatment to more traditional methods,” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today it has awarded a $33,717 grant to the Texas Tech University for a new study, Integration of AAI and Applied Behavior Analysis to Improve Academic Performance in Children with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disability (IDD). This study will examine the effect of an integrated animal-assisted intervention (AAI) in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) on children’s academic performance and physiological stress.

“The goal of this study is to determine if interaction with a therapy dog during an ABA-based intervention results in improved academic response and a decrease in child stress levels,” said the study’s principal investigator, Alexandra Protopopova, PhD, Texas Tech University. “The results of this study may provide support for incorporating animals into ABA-based therapy, a bridging of two beneficial therapies for individuals with ASD/IDD that could result in the emergence of advancements in behavioral science.”

The one-year, single-subject designed study will examine 6 children between the ages of 4 and 13 with ASD/IDD. The unique, within-subject design will use the 6 participants to address each aim of the study. Dr. Protopopova, Assistant Professor of Animal and Food Sciences and co-investigator Breanna N. Harris, PhD, Research Assistant Professor of the Department of Biological Sciences, will expose each child to 5 conditions, 5 times each in a random sequence and will measure on-task behavior and collect saliva for measurement of cortisol levels. The investigators will then compare each condition on an individual basis. It is expected that when provided with a therapy dog during the ABA-based intervention, the children will have significantly lower stress and that the dogs will be a more potent and durable reward for children, resulting in educational improvements.

“Scientific research, including results of previous HABRI-funded studies, has shown that therapy dogs can have a…

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