Selected OHAIRE Publications on Human-Animal Interactions - Autism & Classrooms

Animals & Autism

O'Haire, M. E. (2013). Animal-assisted intervention for autism spectrum disorder: A systematic literature review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(7), 1606-1622.

Summary: The inclusion of animals in therapeutic activities, known as animal-assisted intervention (AAI), has been suggested as a treatment practice for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This paper presents a systematic review of the empirical research on AAI for ASD. Reported outcomes included improvements for multiple areas of functioning known to be impaired in ASD, namely increased social interaction and communication as well as decreased problem behaviors, autistic severity, and stress. Yet despite unanimously positive outcomes, most studies were limited by many methodological weaknesses. This review demonstrates that there is preliminary ‘‘proof of concept'' of AAI for ASD and highlights the need for further, more rigorous research.

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O'Haire, M. E. (2017). Research on animal-assisted intervention and autism spectrum disorder, 2012–2015. Applied Developmental Science, 1-17.

Summary: A systematic literature review to collate and synthesize all empirical research on animal-assisted intervention for autism published from 2012 to 2015. Research methodology is diverse and though limited in many cases, has improved over the last few years. The most commonly reported outcome was increased social interaction, which was unanimously significant across 22 studies.

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Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Behavioral Outcomes

O'Haire, M. E., McKenzie, S. J., Beck, A. M., & Slaughter, V. (2013). Social behaviors increase in children with autism in the presence of animals compared to toys. PLoS ONE, 8(2), e57010.

Summary: This paper presents an experimental study of the effects of interacting with animals, compared to toys, for children with autism spectrum disorder. It uses the observational coding system developed by the OHAIRE team. It is open access and free to the public.

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Standardized Surveys

O'Haire, M. E., McKenzie, S. J., McCune, S., & Slaughter, V. (2014). Effects of classroom animal-assisted activities on social functioning in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(3), 162-168.

Summary: This study includes outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorder from an 8-week animal-assisted activities program in the classroom, compared to an 8-week waitlist control period.

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Physiological Outcomes

O'Haire, M. E., McKenzie, S. J., Beck, A. M., & Slaughter, V. (2015). Animals may act as social buffers: Skin conductance arousal in children with autism spectrum disorder in a social context. Developmental Psychobiology, 57(5), 584-595.

Summary: This study measured continuous physiological arousal in children with ASD and typically developing (TD) children in a social context during four conditions: (a) a baseline of reading silently, (b) a scripted classroom activity involving reading aloud, (c) free play with peers and toys, and (d) free play with peers and animals (guinea pigs). The results showed a 43% decrease in skin conductance responses during free play with peers in the presence of animals, compared to toys. The paper discusses how animals may act as social buffers for children with ASD, and could confer unique anxiolytic effects.

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Typically Developing Children

Standardized Surveys

O'Haire, M. E., McKenzie, S. J., McCune, S., & Slaughter, V. (2013). Effects of animal-assisted activities with guinea pigs in the primary school classroom. Anthrozoös, 26(3), 445-458.

Summary: This publication details the effects of an 8-week animal-assisted activities program in the school classroom for typically-developing children, compared to an 8-week waitlist control condition.

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McCullough, A., Ruehrdanz, A., Garther, R., Hellman, C., & O'Haire, M. E. (2019). Measuring the social, behavioral, and academic effects of classroom pets on third and fourth-grade students. Human Animal Interaction Bulletin, 9(1).

Summary: This publication details the effects of classroom pets for third & fourth-grade students across the United States. Overall although teachers and parents reported benefits, there were no differences between student reports. This suggests that there is a need for further examination of these classroom programs.

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Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Germone, M. M., Gabriels, R. L., Guérin, N. A., Zan, Z., Banks, T., & O'Haire, M. E. (2019). Animal-assisted activity improves social behaviors in psychiatrically hospitalized youth with autismAutism, 23(7), 1740-1751.

Summary: This article is preliminary research suggesting that animal-assisted activities with dogs can improve social interactions of children with autism spectrum disorder when hospitalized.

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Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Guérin, N. A., Rodriguez, K. E., Brodhead, M. T., O'Haire, M. E. (2017). Assessing preferences for animals in children with autism: A new use for video-based preference assessmentFrontiers in Veterinary Science, 4, 29.

Summary: This article discusses the possibility to assess preference for animals in individuals with autism spectrum disorder using video. This technique may enhance animal-assisted interventions and maximize their outcomes. It is open access and free to the public.

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