Dr Dog’s animal assisted therapy helps autism study
Congratulations to Dr Pat Fung
In March 2009, Ms Fung, Suk-Chun Pat contacted Animals Asia with a proposal to collaborate with our Dr Dogs in her research on the role of therapy dogs in motivating social interaction for children with autism. Then a Teaching Fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Education and a student in Educational Psychology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Pat has just recently been conferred with her Doctorate, based on this study.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a type of neurological dysfunction and people with autism have poor development in relating to other people. It is further compounded by impairments in the emotional and communication aspects of interpersonal relationships. In more specific terms, there is a “triad” of symptoms present in ASD: impairment in communication, impairment in social interaction, and restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities.
Dr Mark Jones, Animals Asia’s Animal Welfare Director at the time, and Dr Jill Robinson, the founder and CEO of Animals Asia, reviewed and discussed Pat's proposal to conduct her research on Animal Assisted Play Therapy (AAPT). They were delighted with the idea and gave the Dr Dog team the green light to collaborate with Pat.
The first step was to choose the Dr Dogs to participate in the study and at the same time, Pat approached Hong Chi Morninghope School in Tuen Mun, where they were interested in letting their autistic pupils participate. The school principal, Ms. Cheng, is a strong believer in the therapeutic value of Animal-assisted Therapy and supported the research. For the past two and a half years, Pat has worked closely with the school, Dr Dog volunteers and two of our great Dr Dogs.
From July to September 2009, Dr Coco and Dr Lulu, were volunteered by two very dedicated guardians, Mr and Mrs Lau to take part in the pilot study. Despite setbacks with summer weather and scheduled school holidays, parents were very dedicated in bringing their children to the research sessions, and Mr and Mrs Lau also gave their full and unfailing support.
Two autistic children participated in the pilot study, and each child received six therapy sessions. In these sessions, Pat tried out some structured, interactive activities to facilitate and observe the social interaction between the autistic children, the therapy dog and herself. She used the results of the pilot study to develop treatment manuals and a coding system and worked out a formal doctoral research proposal. In the study, Pat was eager to uncover and test the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of Animal-assisted Therapy.
Between 1 February 2010 and 6 May 2010, another ten autistic children aged from seven to ten participated in the formal study. They were separated into two groups: Animal-assisted Play Therapy group (with dog) and Object-assisted Play Therapy group (with doll). In that period each child attended fourteen individual therapy sessions of twenty minutes duration each.
Our dedicated Dr Coco and Dr Lulu continued to participate in the individual therapy sessions, with the schedule arranged to do a maximum of three sessions in one day. This measure was enforced in order not to violate our Dr Dog protocol that they should not work more than one hour per day, and in fact, Dr Coco and Dr Lulu did not work any three consecutive sessions so as to avoid overburdening them.
Pat videotaped all the therapy sessions and the collected raw data was coded, organized, and interpreted.
The results showed that the autistic children in the group with the therapy dog showed significant increase in their verbal language after the intervention.
On the contrary, in the group with the doll, the autistic children did not have a significant increase in their speech.
Interestingly, during the intervention process, the group of children with the doll showed significantly more negative behavior than the group of children with the therapy dog.
Pat concluded her study by proposing that AAPT could be a valuable therapy in eliciting social verbal behavior for children with autism.
“Animal-assisted Play Therapy (AAPT) is a valuable intervention for facilitating the social behavior of children with autism. In my doctoral research, the incorporation of a therapy dog in a structured play therapy has been found effective in eliciting the social behavior of the autistic clients. Specifically, AAPT is an effective treatment in eliciting the verbal languages of the autistic children. The therapy dog not only cultivates a positive play environment, but also provides the autistic children with tactile stimulation. The therapy dog is a therapeutic play partner to the autistic children.” --- Dr Fung Suk Chun
Congratulations to Dr Pat Fung and our sincere thanks to dedicated guardians Mr and Mrs Lau and their wonderful canine companions, Dr Coco and Dr Lulu.
Dr Billy, Dr Coco and Dr Lulu with their guardians Mr and Mrs Lau and Dr Pat Fung.
Dr Pat presents her doctoral research into AAPT with the help of her Dr Dog companions.