NIS implemented our AAT program, named Pet Pals, one year ago as an innovative support offered to children in conjunction with speech, occupational, or physical therapy. Students are recommended for this program based upon their individual profiles, teacher or therapist recommendation, and parent approval.
Research documenting the efficacy of AAT is in its early stages, though AAT and related use of animals in intervention has become prevalent for a variety of settings and populations (Bone, 2013; Budahn, 2013; Busch et al., 2016; Friesen, 2010; Gee, Crist, & Carr, 2010). These include hospitals, senior living centers, trauma survivors, and persons with developmental disabilities. Animals have been purported to increase motivation, break down barriers to building relationships, and provide emotional support and comfort.
We began collecting preliminary data in Fall of 2015 and subsequently began a pilot study investigating the impact of the presence of a specially-trained therapy dog during select occupational therapy sessions. The ongoing research project will assess the extent to which the presence of and interaction with a dog in the therapy session will improve student attention to task and completion/mastery of therapeutic activities during session.
Our goal remains to document empirical evidence for AAI in the treatment of children with developmental disabilities in an educational setting.