Animal-assisted intervention for autism spectrum disorder: a systematic literature review

J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Jul;43(7):1606-22. doi: 10.1007/s10803-012-1707-5.


The inclusion of animals in therapeutic activities, known as animal-assisted intervention (AAI), has been suggested as a treatment practice for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This paper presents a systematic review of the empirical research on AAI for ASD. Fourteen studies published in peer-reviewed journals qualified for inclusion. The presentation of AAI was highly variable across the studies. Reported outcomes included improvements for multiple areas of functioning known to be impaired in ASD, namely increased social interaction and communication as well as decreased problem behaviors, autistic severity, and stress. Yet despite unanimously positive outcomes, most studies were limited by many methodological weaknesses. This review demonstrates that there is preliminary "proof of concept" of AAI for ASD and highlights the need for further, more rigorous research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Assisted Therapy / methods*
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / therapy
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / diagnosis
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / psychology
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / therapy*
  • Communication
  • Dogs / psychology
  • Dolphins / psychology
  • Equine-Assisted Therapy / methods
  • Female
  • Human-Animal Bond*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Behavior
  • Treatment Outcome