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A Summative Evaluation of a Dolphin Assisted Therapy Program for Children with Special Needs

Dissertation Psychology, State University of Oregon, USA

Author: Rachel M. Dilts

On-Site Supervisor: Norbert Trompisch

This dissertation reviews the literature on the specialty area of dolphin assisted therapy (DAT), a subfield of animal assisted therapy (AAT). To date the literature on the effectiveness of DAT has been mixed although a majority of it is positive. The study was conducted with 40 parents whose children were attending a 2 week, 10 day DAT program in the Ukraine. A parent report scale using the Behavior Dimensions Rating Scale (BDRS) was administered on site pre and post therapy. A one month follow up concludes this process. An f test will be used to see if and where differences may occur over the 3 surveys.  The results support previous positive evidence in the field and suggest that this DAT program is effective with special children with special needs. More research should continue in the field to add to the body of knowledge by replication of DAT studies. Further research could include focusing on the theoretical assumptions of how it works. This research could help in creating national or international standards of practice, and to legitimize the field providing credible, ethical and quality services which affects both the humans and animals involved.


The overall results of this DAT program suggest that during the course of the program, positive changes took place for participating children with special needs. The subscales, total BDRS score, and a majority of the individual questions further suggest that these improvements were made at a statistically significant level. Thus, at a 95% confidence level, these results are correct and accurate and show the possibilities for uses of DAT.

The greatest changes seemed to occur in subscales 3 and 4. Subscale 3 (Socially Withdrawn) measures problem behaviors related to disorders that cause aloofness. Many of the participants had a diagnosis of Autism, with nine actual reports of this; but many other types of developmental delays and deficiencies include withdrawn behavior, such as ASD. Subscale 4 (Fearful/Anxious) showed the most change, and it, too, can include symptoms of Autism or ASD, and symptoms of anxiety disorders. All of the subscales showed significant improvement, suggesting that any type of behavioral deficit or problem related to these four subscales could be helped with the DAT program.

Link to the Abstract to the study


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