Autism and Animal-Assisted Therapy

Many parents of individuals on the autism spectrum wonder about the potential benefits of animal-assisted therapy. Most people believe that animals have a calming effect. According to the American Pets Products Association, in the US alone, 83.3 million people own dogs and 95.6 million people own cats. In homes for the elderly owning a dog or a cat is often encouraged as research shows that elderly people who owns animal report being happier.

It seems that the effects of animals on individuals with autism are positive as well. Animal-assisted therapy program for individuals with autism involve animals as varied as alpacas, horses, dolphins and dogs.

All of these programs have certain elements in common. Each program emphasizes that therapeutic programs based on interaction with animals help children with autism learn to trust, de-stress, decrease inappropriate behavior, care for another living creature, step out of their comfort zone to try something new and communicate.

Some of the animal-assisted therapy programs available offer an additional, vocational component. Alpacas for Autism in Missouri, USA, for example, offers instructional workshops in fiber arts. Staff at the association help adults with autism sell the woven goods they make from Alpaca fur at the association’s ranch. This provides an added bonus for adults with autism ; a career and a viable source of income. The association offers marketing and sales services for the products made on their alpaca ranch.

One grandmother who spoke with Autism Daily Newscast and wishes to remain anonymous, smiles as she explains that her granddaughter who has autism treasures her therapy dog, a golden retriever named Wiggles.

« Wiggles goes everywhere with Katy. He accompanies her to school, lies next to her on the floor during her therapies, even goes to the doctor with her. When Katy is stressed out and having a crisis, Wiggles helps to soothe her by putting his head in her lap. Therapy dogs are amazingly sensitive and beautifully trained creatures. »

Another Animal-assisted therapy is Dolphin Therapy,  which is meant to be relaxing and fun for the child. It is presented in several stages. One dad who spoke with Autism Daily Newscast and also wishes to remain anonymous, explained that his son with autism« loved making contact with the dolphins » when his family traveled to Israel from France for the Dolphin Therapy experience. He is aware that not enough studies have been done during Dolphin Therapy to explain its effects scientifically but noticed that his

« son was calmer for days after the therapy than he normally is and expressed himself a lot vocally when he was in the water with the dolphins ».


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About Alix Strickland

Alix Strickland, BCaBA is an applied behavior specialist and founder and director of the Le Chemin ABA VB Learning Center for children with autism and other special needs in Paris, France. She is known as the « Green Behavior Specialist » because she uses natural cleansers and organic foods at her center in addition to making a lot of her own DIY, upcycled therapy materials. She coaches families and professionals in using ABA and Verbal Behavior strategies in France and abroad. Her website is