Dog-assisted therapy shows promise in treating youth with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

A new study found that children and adolescents with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders showed reduced symptoms after dog-assisted therapy when administered alongside pharmacological treatment. The findings were published in Frontiers in Psychology.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) — a condition that arises from prenatal alcohol exposure — involves a range of cognitive, behavioral, sensory, and physical impairments. These difficulties often manifest as learning disabilities, poor social skills, and memory problems. To prevent these difficulties from impacting later life, early intervention in childhood and adolescence is crucial.

Study authors Raquel Vidal and team wanted to explore whether dog-assisted therapy (DAT) could be an effective addition to medication that would improve the treatment outcomes of young people with FASD.

A controlled study was conducted among a final sample of 33 youth with FASD who were between the ages of 6 and 18. Roughly half the group (17) was randomly assigned to attend dog-assisted therapy, while the other half (16) was assigned to continue with their treatment as usual. The DAT group attended 12 weekly sessions in the presence of a psychologist, two DAT specialists, and two therapy dogs. The therapy sessions targeted competencies such as emotional self-regulation, managing impulsivity, and social skills.

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