Several studies on the therapy methods aiming at decreasing the social deficits of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have recently emphasized the necessity of performing this type of interventions in close-to-real life situations with naturally occuring stimuli. Companion animals (dogs) not only provide this type of multisensory, natural stimulation, but the ASD children can better interact with animals than humans.

In this project, we aim to investigate whether the presence of a therapy animal positively affects not only the ASD children (Study 1), but also their relationship with the therapist, since it is known that a proper therapeutic relationship is a major determinant of the success of the therapeutic intervention (Study 2). These two studies will allow us to investigate the physiological mechanisms behind the effects of AAT on the psycho-social and emotional abilities of ASD children, by measuring in a non-invasive way two important indicators of the activation of the oxytocin system (salivary cortisol and heart rate).

The long-term objectives of the projects are: (1) to establish a standard procedure of AAT insertion into standard therapeutic methods for ASD children (i.e. Social Story method) and (2) to better understand the physiological mechanisms of the therapeutic effects of human-animal interactions on clinical population. These objectives will stimulate the development of a solid Research Center for the study of the human-animal interactions.

Title of the project: Psycho-social and physiological mechanisms of the effects of human-animal interaction on the socio-emotional abilities of autistic children

Type of the project: PN-II-RU-TE-3-2011-3-0080

Team members:

2013: Alina S. Rusu (director), Vlad Muresan (technical manager), Anamaria Roman (research assistant), Alexandra Gecea (research assistant), Vlad Vancia Pop (research assistant)

2012: Alina S. Rusu (director), Vlad Muresan (technical manager), Anamaria Roman (research assistant), Alexandra Gecea (research assistant), Vlad Vancia Pop (research assistant), Sebastian Pintea (Senior Researcher),  Raluca Igna (Young Researcher), Ioana Ionicioiu (research assistant), Diana Nagy (research assistant).