Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy New Study Reveals Profound Benefits of Autism Assistance Canines in Irish Schools

New Study Reveals Profound Benefits of Autism Assistance Canines in Irish Schools

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A qualitative research study recently conducted in Ireland is shedding new light on the significant benefits of utilising autism assistance canines in educational settings. The study underlines the untapped potential of these specially trained canines to improve the lives of autistic children, emphasising the need for a more inclusive education system. The findings were published in the journal Inquiry.

The study found that autism assistance canines can have a profound impact on the safety, social interaction, independent functioning, and language development of autistic children. “The presence of a certified canine provides substantial emotional and psychological support, not only to the autistic child but also to the family members,” the study reports. Parents involved in the research described noticeable improvements in their children’s abilities to focus, especially during homework sessions. One parent even stated, “I rub him, and everything will be alright.”

In particular, the study highlights how an autism assistance canine can help enhance the social skills of autistic children. Both parents and canine handlers who participated in the study reported an increase in positive social behaviors and verbal communication in the children. The research is in line with previous studies, which have demonstrated the efficacy of animal-assisted intervention in promoting social interaction. Teachers also expressed the opinion that autism assistance canines could be a game-changer in developing social skills among autistic children.

But the research points out a glaring issue: the lack of government and educational policies to support the integration of autism assistance canines in schools. Currently, Irish education policies do not account for the possibility of autistic children being accompanied to school by certified canines. This absence in policy not only inhibits the adoption of a promising educational aid but also precludes teachers from receiving the necessary training to work alongside the canines effectively. “A degree of responsibility would automatically transfer to the teacher, and therefore, a certain level of training would be required,” the study notes.

The research was carried out during the Covid pandemic, which introduced limitations, such as not being able to conduct in-person interviews. The small sample size of the study could be seen as a limitation; but he researchers argue that this actually allowed for an in-depth understanding of the topic. Nonetheless, a more extensive study might reveal even more facets of this complex issue.

Given the potential benefits, the study strongly advocates for a review of current educational policies, emphasizing the need for training programs that include teachers in the process. “Inclusion and participation of teachers would be essential for the successful integration of autism assistance canines into the school environment,” the researchers suggest. While there are no continuing professional development courses available to Irish teachers in the area of animal-assisted education, the study’s findings could serve as a catalyst for change.

The findings have implications that extend beyond Ireland, potentially impacting educational practices globally. “Their opinions, attitudes, and perceptions are necessary should the concept of animal-assisted education be brought to fruition in the educational environment both nationally and internationally,” the study concludes.

This research serves as a call to action for policymakers, educators, and parents. Its compelling findings emphasize that autism assistance canines not only offer immediate emotional and psychological benefits but can also significantly impact long-term educational outcomes for autistic children. Therefore, its recommendations should not be taken lightly and should be considered seriously for the implementation of a more inclusive and supportive educational system in Ireland and beyond.

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