Animal-assisted interventions in special needs schools: what works?

Dimolareva, M (2020) Animal-assisted interventions in special needs schools: what works? PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

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The present research set out to answer the question of what impact does a dog-assisted intervention have on children with special educational needs and if there are benefits, how long do they last for. The project was underpinned by previous research which for well over 30 years has indicated many benefits (Friesen, 2010; Fine, 2015). In addition, theories supporting the beneficial effects of animals such as Biophilia Hypothesis (Wilson, 1984), Attachment (Bowlby, 1969), Social Buffer (McNicholas & Collis, 2006) and Biopsychosocial Model (Engel, 1981) were also discussed. Literature reviews in the area of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAIs) have established the lack of scientific rigour and consistency in the literature (e.g. O’Haire, 2013; O’Haire, 2017 Brelsford, Meints, Gee & Pfeffer, 2017), which this thesis set out to address. A Randomised Control Trial (RCT) design was employed with three conditions: dog intervention, relaxation intervention and no-treatment control group. The interventions were provided either as one-to-one or in a group setting. Measures were taken on academic factors (cognition and language) and well as physiological (cortisol) socioemotional (anxiety, self-esteem) and behavioural (behaviour at school and home, empathizing and systemizing) factors. The project included any 8-10-year-old children (N=157) who attended the special educational needs schools taking part, regardless of ability or diagnosis. The findings indicated that overall children benefitted from the dog and relaxation intervention but the benefits differed between tasks. There were also differences in progress between children of high and low ability. Some benefits lasted for 6 weeks after the intervention but were no longer present at 6-months or 1-year after the end of the intervention. This would indicate that children benefit from having a dog (or relaxation) intervention but the effects were not permanent so the intervention would need to be reintroduced. Future research needs to consider dosage of the AAI and exactly when the reintroduction needs to occur for optimum benefits.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)

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Divisions: School of Sciences
Date Deposited: 22 Nov 2021 19:15
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2021 19:15
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