Animalia

An Anthrozoology Journal

Child-Canine Bonding in Children with ASD: Findings Within and Across Case Studies

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The demand for support for families impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) continues to grow, and one increasingly popular avenue of support is the use of companion canines. Parents searching for service canines trained to work with children with ASD, however, face formidable obstacles surrounding the availability and cost of canines. Due to these challenges, parents may seek less formal routes to support their children with ASD, often adding companion canines to their family. Despite enthusiasm, little is known about human-animal bonding in children with ASD and research identifying factors that influence children on the spectrum’s ability to bond with a companion canine is meagre. Using a Family Systems approach and Bowlby’s Attachment theory, this exploratory case study sought to identify the pathways through which child-canine bonding occurs and the factors contributing to this bonding process. Families (N=6), with a child aged 5-14 years with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD and their family canine, participated in the study. Findings revealed that the child-canine bond in children with ASD can be conceptualized as an attachment relationship. Furthermore, seven themes characterizing child-canine bonding emerged. Findings highlight theoretical and applied implications within the fields of human-animal interaction (HAI) and ASD.

 By Kathryn Struik and John-Tyler Binfet

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