December 2011
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Austin Autism Study Uses Dogs to Measure Social Skill Improvement in Children

Here at Virtue Autism is a disorder that is taken very seriously. So when I heard of a study of dogs helping this current battle on the mental disorder I felt intrigued. Researchers employed at the University of Texas think that dogs may hold the secret for these children. To prove their theory they are exposing children with Autism in Austin to specially trained therapy dogs. The hope is that these dogs will engage the children’s minds long enough so they can learn the proper social skills. Can trained dogs really help these children? It is safe to say I left reading the initial paragraph with fewer answers, but more questions.

This study is of course of vital importance. This prospect is clear when you know that Autism currently affects every 1 in 110 children in the United States. The professionals are using this study to see if these therapy dogs can actually calm the distractions many Autistic children have. In theory, distractions will no longer exist through learning about and with the dogs. The study is being conducted in North Austin and is being used to document how these children react to the dogs. There will be two classes. One class will be for ages 8 to 10 and one will be for ages 11-15. In each class there will be five children, 4 dogs, dog trainers, and Autism specialists. As an employee of Virtue this study is very interesting. If this study proves successful we might actually have a proper treatment in the fight against Autism.

So how does this process work? By doing activities such as stroking the animals it is the hypothesis that the specialists can cut the compulsive personalities of these children and encourage listening skills. The main focus of this study will be whether they can grab these children’s attention and keep their attention focused. If funding remains consistent researchers say they would like to do two follow-up classes. Completing all three studies will offer the answer we all want to know. Can therapy dogs actually be an effective treatment for Autism?

Autism is a serious problem in this country. If specially trained animals can in fact help treat this disorder what do we have to lose? This study is worth looking into. As a mental health professional, and a human being with a conscience it is one study that I think is worth exploring a little more.

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