Needs Assessment Plan

Introduction

The recent researches and numerous studies discover the benefits of implementation of pet therapy or animal assisted programs in work with children with the autism spectrum disorders. The positive influences of human-animal cooperation appear to provide healing effects on the treatment of mental disabilities, especially at a young age. As a result, there is a need in evaluating the current background in the use of pet therapy in the work with autistic children and defining further development opportunities and implementation. This paper is going to create an assessment plan, analyze normative, relative, expressed and perceived needs, regarding animal assisted programs in the treatment of autism and suggest potential ways of development of such programs, in the school environment.

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Studies, conducted between 2000 and 2010, show the importance of introduction of animal assisted programs during sessions with children with autism. For example, O’Haire (2013) admits that cooperation with dogs and horses lead to the noticeable improvement in the emotional stability, reduction of stresses and anxiety, in more than 50% of cases. Additionally, Ward, Whalon, Rusnak, Wendell, and Paschall’s research (2013) show that working with animals allow disabled children to improve their communicative and social skills as well reducing the index of symptoms of autism (mean = 100; standard deviation = 15). According to Grandgeorge, Tordjman, Lazartigues, Lemonnier, Deleau, and Hausberger (2012), cooperation with dogs assists in decreasing the symptoms of autism disorders in more than 80% of cases. A study, conducted by Viau, Arsenault-Lapierre, Fecteau, Champagne, Walker, and Lupien (2010), states that 48% of autistic children encounter the improvement of prosocial behavior, in case of cooperation with animals. Thus, the positive impacts of animal assisted programs on the well-being of autistic children become obvious and call for the further development in this sphere.

The introduction of the systematic, inclusive, and regular animal assisted programs, in the school environment, will strongly help autistic children to adjust to the social surroundings and improve cognitive and social skills. Currently, school pet therapy programs are quite limited and unaccomplished due to the lack of relevant knowledge, financial support, and professional skills, regarding principles and peculiarities of implementation of animal assisted programs. Nevertheless, the review of recent literature and fulfillment of the assessment plan shows that inauguration of the regular, sufficient animal assisted programs at schools will help to raise the awareness of the autism disorders, create convenient studying conditions for disabled children and attract attention to the prominence of this problem. In order to organize animal assisted programs, there is a need to find support from families, educators, local councils, and activists. Moreover, the introduction of pet therapy for autistic children at schools should coordinate its actions with local disability organizations, charity institutions, medical centers and non-profitable organizations, as well.

Normative Need Assessment

To check the suitability and helpfulness of the animal-assisted program at schools, the assessment plan should consider the following questions:
1) What aspects of pet therapy can be regarded as positive in relations to the treatment of autism spectrum disorders?
2) How do the research literature and studies treat pet therapy and its impacts on the improvement of children’s health?
3) Which schools are prepared to implement animal assisted programs in terms of equipment, professional knowledge, and compression of principles of their functions?
4) How many families are willing to allow their children participating in pet therapies, during the educational process?
5) What are essential preconditions for introduction of anima-assisted programs in the school environment?
6) What are potential consequences of utilization of pet therapy in work with autistic children at schools?

Taking into consideration the achieved data from such institutions as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Council on Children with Disabilities, the National Autism Center (NAC), the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) and the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on Autism Spectrum Disorders, it is possible to state that animal assisted programs have found their reflection in the numerous studies and investigations (Lindgren & Doobay, 2011). Commonly, the studies admit about the fruitfulness and high productivity of such programs (Wright, Hall, Hames, Hardiman, Mills, PAWS Project Team, & Mills, 2015; Siewertsen, French, & Teramoto, 2015; Funahashi, Gruebler, Aoki, Kadone, & Suzuki, 2014; Esposito, McCune, Griffin, & Maholmes, 2011). Thus, the data regarding nature, functions and peculiarities of pet therapy in work with autistic children exist. However, there is a need for investigating the ways of implementation of animal assisted programs at schools, defining essential professional skills and qualifications for work and analyzing potential interventions, needed for the successful therapeutic performance.

Relative Need Assessment

In order to compete the relative need assessment, it is important to compare two different regions, in terms of implementation of animal assisted programs in work with autistic children. For this sake, the states of Maine and Massachusetts have been chosen. To start with, the data collection should compare the percentage of total population and amount of disabled children. Thus, the population of Massachusetts is six times bigger (approximately, six million of inhabitants), in comparison with Maine (one million of citizens) (Kurtz et al., 2014). When speaking about the number of cases of incidence with autism, the statistics in both states show tendencies to increase (Kurtz et al., 2014). Thus, the suggestion to introduce pet therapy as a therapeutic means at schools gain additional importance and prominence.

Massachusetts possesses a relatively developed structure of animal assisted programs. For example, numerous organizations, such as Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Dog B.O.N.E.S, Caring Canines, Massachusetts Pet Partners, New England Pet Partners, The People and Pet Foundation and others, focus on providing services, connected with the treatment of mental disabilities (Majić, Gutzmann, Heinz, Lang, & Rapp, 2013). At the same time, the state of Maine does not possess any available legal services, regarding the utilization of pet therapy at schools. Thus, it is important to focus on the investigation of this problem in depth and enable the functioning of similar organizations in the chosen state.

Expressed Need Assessment

Turner (2011) has summarized the findings of studies, conducted during 1970-2010. He informs that, at the beginning of the 21st century, 79% of disabled children sought their pets, when they felt anxious or disappointed (Turner, 2011). In 2005-2007, it was possible to observe the same situation with about 75% of autistic children looking for animals, when feeling upset (Turner, 2011). Another study shows that 45% of small children (4-5 years) tend to hare secrets with animals, rather than parents or siblings. Approximately 76% of disabled children are ready to interact with any animals after the five-minute contact (Turner, 2011). Obviously, such findings state the importance of animals in the improving of emotional stability and socialization of small children with autism disorders.

McGee, Morrier, and Daley have found out that 71% of children experience the improvement of communicative skills after the interaction with their pets. Analogically, 82% were able to use meaningful words more fluently and comprehensively (as cited in Turner, 2011). Overall, the improvement of communication could be observed in more than a half of all respondents, between the age of two and seven years (Turner, 2011).

Thus, considering the obtained data, it is possible to conclude that the problem of implementation of animal assisted programs remains topical and prominent (Wright et al., 2015; Siewertsen et al., 2015). Children’s attitudes and expressions, regarding the interaction with animals, show the significance of such sessions and therapies (Funahashi et al., 2014; Esposito et al., 2011). As a result, the suggestion to utilize animal assisted programs at schools gain paramount importance and should be considered.

Perceived Need Assessment

To implement animal assisted programs, it is important to identify social attitudes, treatment of such innovations and expectations, concerning the outcomes of such therapies in the school environment. As a result, there is a need for conducting social surveys, aiming at finding out the attitude of families toward the introduction of pet therapies in the work with disabled children. The past survey showed that 33% households adopt pets for the therapeutic aims, and 57% of families regard animals as important factors of increasing their children’s mental and physical health (Turner, 2011). However, such surveys covered only the implementation of pet therapies at home. However, in this case, it is important to consider all interventions, obstacles, opportunities, and suggestions.
In the first turn, it is important to collect data regarding a number of children, suffering from autism spectrum disorders. According to the statistics, a number of disabled children tends to increase, resulting in one case of disease in 68 children (Lindgren & Doobay, 2011). Moreover, it is essential to consider available practices and services, regarding the utilization of pet therapy at schools. Overall, the data collection should focus on such areas as identification of knowledge of services and probable obstacles, readiness of population to accept such programs, statistical data about the cases of incidence and general treatment of autistic disorders in the work with children.

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Conclusion

To sum up, the development and implementation of animal assisted programs in work with autistic children have a solid background and numerous opportunities. The review of the recent studies, investigations, and researches show that many families are aware of the benefits of pet therapies in the treatment of autism disorders. Similarly, many households adopt pets with the purpose of therapy and improvement of mental health. Thus, there are solid preconditions of introducing animal assisted programs at schools. However, there is still a need for researching general attitudes to pet therapies and conditions of their inaugurating at schools, in terms of qualifications, experience, and educational, material and financial support. This paper shows that the analysis of factors is essential for reducing the potential risks and obstacles and determining the threat concentrations. The data collection is important for indicating possible obstacles, barriers, opportunities, and consequences of the suggested practices. The process of program implementation should carefully consider all variables, possibilities, implications, and outcomes.

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