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"The connection just happens": Therapists' perspectives of canine-assisted occupational therapy for children on the autism spectrum.

Authors
  • Hill, Jessica Rachel1
  • Ziviani, Jenny1
  • Driscoll, Carlie1
  • 1 School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, Australia. , (Australia)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Australian occupational therapy journal
Publication Date
Dec 01, 2020
Volume
67
Issue
6
Pages
550–562
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1111/1440-1630.12680
PMID: 32510649
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

The inclusion of a therapy dog has been suggested as a means of facilitating therapy engagement for children on the autism spectrum within occupational therapy sessions. The aim of this study was to seek an understanding of possible benefits and challenges of this practice from the perspectives of occupational therapists, trained in canine-assisted therapy. This study adopted an interpretive descriptive design. Six therapists participated in a semi-structured, telephone interview to describe their experience of working as canine-assisted occupational therapists with children on the autism spectrum. An inductive thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. Two overarching themes emerged. The first captured how therapists incorporated their therapy dog into sessions to accelerate children's initial motivation to engage within the therapy process. Specifically, therapists discussed how involving their therapy dog facilitated the development of a secure relationship, supported autonomous task involvement and increased children's sense of confidence. Second, they identified challenges inherent in their practice, such as the therapist's ability to maintain a goal-directed focus when including a therapy dog. Beyond the challenges within their own practice sessions, therapists reflected on issues thought to impact the occupational therapy profession since starting practice as a canine-assisted occupational therapist. Findings from this study contribute to the current understanding of how occupational therapists incorporate therapy dogs into their practice with children on the autism spectrum. The specific challenges noted by the therapists highlighted the importance of canine-assisted occupational therapy being viewed as an advanced scope of practice within Australia and, therefore, the need for training and practice guidelines to be established. © 2020 Occupational Therapy Australia.

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