Aust Occup Ther J. 2021 Sep 9. doi: 10.1111/1440-1630.12768. Online ahead of print.
INTRODUCTION: Evidence indicates that assistance dogs placed in the home are effective in supporting individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by increasing social and community participation and promoting quality of life. This study aimed to examine the outcomes of assistance dog placement on quality of life, independence, and participation of families including individuals with ASD placed with an assistance dog compared to families on the waiting list for an autism assistance dog and to evaluate the feasibility of the design for future studies.
METHODS: A cross-sectional comparative study was conducted. The Adaptive Behaviour Analysis System, Social Responsiveness Scale, Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist, Canadian Occupational Performance Measure, and Autism Family Experience Questionnaire were used to evaluate adaptive skills, behaviour, social difficulties, daily functioning, and family quality of life.
RESULTS: Six families who had an autism assistance dog placed with them, and 12 families who were on the waiting list were recruited using purposeful sampling. The pilot data found no significant differences between the two groups. However, trends were observed which suggested that assistance dogs can increase desired social behaviours, decrease ASD severity, and improve family wellbeing. For families with an assistance dog, more positive outcomes were observed for families who were partnered with an assistance dog for longer. Parents (and sometimes individuals with ASD) were able to complete and return the outcome measures via mail to collect the outcome data for the study.
CONCLUSION: These study findings add to the developing evidence about the use of assistance dogs with this population. A larger sample size may have allowed for significant associations to be detected. The methods used were feasible to be applied in a larger study. These results may assist health professionals advocate for funding for assistance dog placement to individuals with ASD and their families.
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