Process Evaluation of Animal-Assisted Therapy: Feasibility and Relevance of a Dog-Assisted Therapy Program in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Carolien Wijker*, Roeslan Leontjevas, Annelies A. Spek, Marie-Jose Enders-Slegers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Background: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard for evaluating a treatment. However, the results of an RCT may remain meaningless for clinical practice in cases of poor intervention feasibility or fidelity (the extent to which the protocol was executed), or when health care professionals or patients experience the intervention as irrelevant or unpleasant. Feasibility and relevance of psychosocial interventions are highly understudied in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In order to put the effects revealed in an RCT on an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) into the context of clinical practice and to formulate guidelines for potential improvements and further implementation of the therapy, the aim of this process evaluation was to gain insight into the relevance and feasibility of the intervention and barriers and facilitators to its implementation. (2) Methods: Data were collected from 27 participants with ASD and three therapists using questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and treatment reports. Reach, adherence, program fidelity, and program appraisal were evaluated, and barriers and facilitators to recruitment and implementation of the AAT program were explored. (3) Results: The participants were satisfied with the program and evaluated it as feasible and relevant for adults with ASD. The participants documented improving self-insight, joy, relaxation, and physical contact with a therapy dog as the reason of their positive appraisal of the therapy. Documented aspects that may influence feasibility and appraised relevance were the participants’ therapy attitude, skills for generalization, and severity of contextual problems (e.g., problems at work, relationship problems). Regarding the sample quality, females and dog owners were slightly over-represented in the RCT. (4) Discussion: Considering the positive evaluation of the intervention and its positive effects revealed in the RCT, the AAT program can be added to the treatment repertoire to reduce stress and improve social communication in adults with ASD. More research in larger samples is needed for better understanding the generalization of the intervention effects, especially in male patients and those who do not have a dog at home.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1103
Number of pages14
JournalAnimals
Volume9
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2019

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Animal Assisted Therapy
Dogs
therapeutics
dogs
Randomized Controlled Trials
animals
Therapeutics
therapy dogs
health care workers
animal communication
gold
Autism Spectrum Disorder
autism
interviews
questionnaires
sampling
Communication
Guidelines
Interviews
Delivery of Health Care

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@article{37d9673d0d874bffbbefd6168e3eb80e,
title = "Process Evaluation of Animal-Assisted Therapy: Feasibility and Relevance of a Dog-Assisted Therapy Program in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder",
abstract = "Background: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard for evaluating a treatment. However, the results of an RCT may remain meaningless for clinical practice in cases of poor intervention feasibility or fidelity (the extent to which the protocol was executed), or when health care professionals or patients experience the intervention as irrelevant or unpleasant. Feasibility and relevance of psychosocial interventions are highly understudied in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In order to put the effects revealed in an RCT on an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) into the context of clinical practice and to formulate guidelines for potential improvements and further implementation of the therapy, the aim of this process evaluation was to gain insight into the relevance and feasibility of the intervention and barriers and facilitators to its implementation. (2) Methods: Data were collected from 27 participants with ASD and three therapists using questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and treatment reports. Reach, adherence, program fidelity, and program appraisal were evaluated, and barriers and facilitators to recruitment and implementation of the AAT program were explored. (3) Results: The participants were satisfied with the program and evaluated it as feasible and relevant for adults with ASD. The participants documented improving self-insight, joy, relaxation, and physical contact with a therapy dog as the reason of their positive appraisal of the therapy. Documented aspects that may influence feasibility and appraised relevance were the participants’ therapy attitude, skills for generalization, and severity of contextual problems (e.g., problems at work, relationship problems). Regarding the sample quality, females and dog owners were slightly over-represented in the RCT. (4) Discussion: Considering the positive evaluation of the intervention and its positive effects revealed in the RCT, the AAT program can be added to the treatment repertoire to reduce stress and improve social communication in adults with ASD. More research in larger samples is needed for better understanding the generalization of the intervention effects, especially in male patients and those who do not have a dog at home.",
author = "Carolien Wijker and Roeslan Leontjevas and Spek, {Annelies A.} and Marie-Jose Enders-Slegers",
year = "2019",
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day = "9",
doi = "10.3390/ani9121103",
language = "English",
volume = "9",
journal = "Animals",
issn = "2076-2615",
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Process Evaluation of Animal-Assisted Therapy : Feasibility and Relevance of a Dog-Assisted Therapy Program in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. / Wijker, Carolien; Leontjevas, Roeslan; Spek, Annelies A.; Enders-Slegers, Marie-Jose.

In: Animals, Vol. 9, No. 12, 1103, 09.12.2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - Process Evaluation of Animal-Assisted Therapy

T2 - Feasibility and Relevance of a Dog-Assisted Therapy Program in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

AU - Wijker, Carolien

AU - Leontjevas, Roeslan

AU - Spek, Annelies A.

AU - Enders-Slegers, Marie-Jose

PY - 2019/12/9

Y1 - 2019/12/9

N2 - Background: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard for evaluating a treatment. However, the results of an RCT may remain meaningless for clinical practice in cases of poor intervention feasibility or fidelity (the extent to which the protocol was executed), or when health care professionals or patients experience the intervention as irrelevant or unpleasant. Feasibility and relevance of psychosocial interventions are highly understudied in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In order to put the effects revealed in an RCT on an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) into the context of clinical practice and to formulate guidelines for potential improvements and further implementation of the therapy, the aim of this process evaluation was to gain insight into the relevance and feasibility of the intervention and barriers and facilitators to its implementation. (2) Methods: Data were collected from 27 participants with ASD and three therapists using questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and treatment reports. Reach, adherence, program fidelity, and program appraisal were evaluated, and barriers and facilitators to recruitment and implementation of the AAT program were explored. (3) Results: The participants were satisfied with the program and evaluated it as feasible and relevant for adults with ASD. The participants documented improving self-insight, joy, relaxation, and physical contact with a therapy dog as the reason of their positive appraisal of the therapy. Documented aspects that may influence feasibility and appraised relevance were the participants’ therapy attitude, skills for generalization, and severity of contextual problems (e.g., problems at work, relationship problems). Regarding the sample quality, females and dog owners were slightly over-represented in the RCT. (4) Discussion: Considering the positive evaluation of the intervention and its positive effects revealed in the RCT, the AAT program can be added to the treatment repertoire to reduce stress and improve social communication in adults with ASD. More research in larger samples is needed for better understanding the generalization of the intervention effects, especially in male patients and those who do not have a dog at home.

AB - Background: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard for evaluating a treatment. However, the results of an RCT may remain meaningless for clinical practice in cases of poor intervention feasibility or fidelity (the extent to which the protocol was executed), or when health care professionals or patients experience the intervention as irrelevant or unpleasant. Feasibility and relevance of psychosocial interventions are highly understudied in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In order to put the effects revealed in an RCT on an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) into the context of clinical practice and to formulate guidelines for potential improvements and further implementation of the therapy, the aim of this process evaluation was to gain insight into the relevance and feasibility of the intervention and barriers and facilitators to its implementation. (2) Methods: Data were collected from 27 participants with ASD and three therapists using questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and treatment reports. Reach, adherence, program fidelity, and program appraisal were evaluated, and barriers and facilitators to recruitment and implementation of the AAT program were explored. (3) Results: The participants were satisfied with the program and evaluated it as feasible and relevant for adults with ASD. The participants documented improving self-insight, joy, relaxation, and physical contact with a therapy dog as the reason of their positive appraisal of the therapy. Documented aspects that may influence feasibility and appraised relevance were the participants’ therapy attitude, skills for generalization, and severity of contextual problems (e.g., problems at work, relationship problems). Regarding the sample quality, females and dog owners were slightly over-represented in the RCT. (4) Discussion: Considering the positive evaluation of the intervention and its positive effects revealed in the RCT, the AAT program can be added to the treatment repertoire to reduce stress and improve social communication in adults with ASD. More research in larger samples is needed for better understanding the generalization of the intervention effects, especially in male patients and those who do not have a dog at home.

U2 - 10.3390/ani9121103

DO - 10.3390/ani9121103

M3 - Article

VL - 9

JO - Animals

JF - Animals

SN - 2076-2615

IS - 12

M1 - 1103

ER -