Student Research Projects

How Animal Therapy Helps Communication Deficits in Individuals with Autism

Student Caitlyn Bishop, ‘15
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Recreation
Course REC 310: Disabilities and Recreational Therapy


Autism Spectrum Disorders are a group of disorders that affect both verbal and nonverbal communication skills as well as reciprocal social interaction skills. They are characterized by stereotyped behaviors and interests. Today 1 out of 88 children is on the Autism Spectrum. There is no cure for this disorder, and therefore, early intervention and carefully planned treatment plans are important in reaching the best quality of life. Besides traditional medical and behavioral interventions, alternative treatments are becoming more popular as complementary interventions. One of the most popular alternative methods is animal therapy. Many studies demonstrate the efficacy of animal therapy in the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders. This paper reviews research on the use of animal therapy, arguing that animal therapy produces increased levels of communication and socialization skills in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The goals of this paper are to provide information on animal-assisted therapy and support the theory that using animals with individuals with Autism helps to decrease communication deficits. The most popular forms of animal therapy are done with dogs, horses, and dolphins. These three animals, as well as smaller animals and farm animals, have been used in research to see the effects of animal therapy on autism. All of the reviewed studies on animal interactions demonstrated that individuals with autism show increased levels of social skills, decreased levels of communication deficits, and lasting long-term effects after treatment.