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Abstract

Background: The application of animal assisted therapy (AAT) in provision of services is an emerging area of research in the allied health literature. Prior investigators have called for additional research concerning applications of animal assisted therapy in specific settings and patient populations.

Objectives: to (a) investigate the effect of animal assisted therapy on the quantity of vocalizations in a single child participant with severe speech delay, and (b) identify optimal animal assisted therapy practices in pediatric group speech-language therapy.

Design: A case study was conducted using ABA single-case design. The number of vocalizations produced by the participant was measured for 15-minute periods during four initial baseline (no animal assisted therapy) sessions, four sessions with the intervention condition (animal assisted therapy), and three additional baseline (no animal assisted therapy) sessions. Observations were also recorded concerning the interactions between the animal assisted therapy team, the participant, and other children in the group.

Results: The number of vocalizations increased markedly during the intervention phase, and the effect was nonreversible. The participant also demonstrated increased attention to tasks and activities during the intervention phase. An increase in unpredictable, forceful movements by the participant and other children was observed after 10-minutes.

Conclusions: Although the same degree of increase in vocalizations is not expected for every child exposed to animal assisted therapy, results suggest that animal assisted therapy is a potentially valuable tool for speech-language pathologists working with children who have severe delays in communication skills. Recommendations for future research include consideration of time limits for animal assisted therapy interventions, detailed advance planning with the handler to minimize stressors for the animal assisted therapy team, and ensuring adequate adult personnel for data collection and management of the intervention sessions.

Author Bio(s)

Heather Anderson, MA, CCC-SLP, is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Communication Disorders in the School of Allied Health Professions at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport. She is a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist, and is also a doctoral candidate in the EdD program at Louisiana Tech University, College of Education.

Sandra Hayes, SLP.D., MCD, CCC-SLP, is Program Director and Associate Professor of Clinical Communication Disorders in the Speech-Language Pathology Program in the School of Allied Health Professions at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport. She is a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist. Dr. Hayes and Boomer Hayes are a certified animal assisted therapy team.

Julie Smith, MA, CCC-SLP, is an Instructor of Clinical Communication Disorders in the Speech-Language Pathology Program in the School of Allied Health Professions at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport. She is a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist.

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