Psychological Effects Of Animal-Assisted Programs Among Children With Special Needs- Experiences From A Systematic Review

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Zita Éva Balogh, Ildikó Erdei, Karolina Eszter Kovács , Beáta Erika Nagy


Programmes involving animals are becoming more and more common. These programmes can vary widely in their methodology, focus and purpose, and their developmental impact can be significant for healthy children and those with various disorders. In the present systematic review, we aimed to explore the psychological effects of animal-assisted activities (AAA), therapies (AAT) and interventions (AAI). Using the EBSCO Discovery Service search engine, we searched 85 databases for relevant studies alongside the relevant keywords. The search yielded 262 results, of which 21 studies were relevant after title and abstract filtering and full-text analysis. The results show that most animal-assisted programmes involve dogs and horses. Regarding the type of the disorder, autism, cerebral palsy and ADHD were over-represented. There was considerable variability in the duration of sessions and the overall programme, independent of disorder type and patient age. The main indicators revolved around relational, cognitive and behavioural effectiveness. Overall, the studies were of high methodological quality. The studies typically focus on a single segment or the child/adolescent only, but the results are not interpreted in context. In the future, it would be worthwhile to broaden the spectrum of studies in terms of comparisons of psychological and physiological indicators and follow-up, longitudinal design and analysis.

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