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Autism Assistance Dog Study

Help us understand how assistance dogs may support autistic children and their families!

Is your child on a waitlist to receive an assistance dog? If so, join our study!

We are inviting families of autistic children, aged between 6- and 12-years of age, to participate in a new research project exploring the benefits of assistance dogs.

Anecdotal parent reports have suggested that autism assistance dogs can improve children’s communication skills, increase independence, reduce anxiety, and strengthen family relationships. While empirical research has found some similar benefits, very few studies have been conducted. More research is necessary to investigate the outcomes for both the children who have received assistance dogs and other members of the family.

Image description: A picture of a black and white dog wearing a service dog vest.

What will we be required to do? How long will we be in the study?

This is a longitudinal study, meaning we will follow the same people over time to see if changes occur. This study is expected to take place over an 18-month period, beginning in 2022. It is possible that some families will receive their assistance dog over this period, while some participants may still be on a waitlist — this is okay, as we are interested in hearing from everyone!

Every six months, we will ask you to complete the following:

  • Fill out a series of questionnaires on your child’s autism symptomatology, daily functioning, and sleep quality.
  • Participate in an online interview, which will enable us to collect further information on your child’s symptoms and daily functioning.
  • If possible, collect data on both your child’s sleep and your own sleep using a sleep diary and actigraphy monitor. An actigraphy monitor is a non-invasive wristwatch-like device which can be used to infer sleep quality (see Photograph 1). If your child does receive their assistance dog during this period, we will also ask you to place an actigraphy device on the dog’s collar for the same period.

Image description: A woman sleeps comfortably in bed, with her left arm facing the camera. A wristwatch-like device is on her arm.
Photograph 1

Who can participate?

This study is open to Australian residents. To participate, you must be the parent or primary caregiver of a child, aged between 6- and 12-years of age, who is on a waitlist to receive an autism assistance dog.

What happens at the end of the study?

Families who participate in this study can opt to receive individual summaries on their child’s sleep habits. Furthermore, participants will be reimbursed with a $25AUD gift card at each stage of the data collection, for a total of $100AUD, and your child will receive a certificate to thank them for their participation.

Can we withdraw from the study at any time?

You can withdraw from the study at any time. Withdrawing from the study will not impact your relationship with our research team, La Trobe University, or your assistance dog provider.

Will we be provided with an assistance dog?

We do not provide assistance dogs. We are a research team interested in recruiting individuals who are on waitlists to receive a dog from an assistance dog provider. If you are interested in learning more about assistance dogs, a non-exhaustive list of Australian providers can be found at Assistance Dogs International. Note that we do not specifically endorse any of these providers.

To learn more, please see our Participant Information Consent Form or contact us at d.tepper@latrobe.edu.au for more information.

This project has been approved by the La Trobe University Human Ethics Committee (HEC22001) and is supported by La Trobe University and the Anthrozoology Research Group.

Note: Identity-first language is used in this study to reflect the preferences of the majority of Australian autistic people surveyed by Bury et al. (2020). We acknowledge that this may not reflect the preferences of all autistic people.