Accessibility statement

Assistance animals

Human with an assistance dog

Assistance animals are animals that are trained to support people with disabilities and mental health conditions and may have the potential to improve a range of mental health and behavioural outcomes for a range of populations. We are developing a portfolio of work in this area. An example of our current work is below.

The impact of living with assistance dogs on quality of life in children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder or a physical disability: A service evaluation

The placement of assistance dogs for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been shown to decrease anxiety and stress, increase calmness, and facilitate social interaction. Similarly, studies have reported that assistance dogs may contribute to an increased sense of independence for individuals with a physical disability, as assistance dogs are able to assist with activities of daily living. Beyond these practical benefits, people with physical disabilities matched with assistance dogs reported psychological benefits such as increased self-esteem, wellbeing, and mood.

While there has been research investigating the impact of assistance dogs on various populations, less is known about the potential translation of these benefits to an assistance dog placed with an individual with ASD and/or a physical disability on a permanent basis. Moreover, no published findings have explored the lived experience of assistance dog placement in adults and children with ASD and/or a physical disability in the UK. As there is an increasing demand for the placement of assistance dogs, and clearly identified unmet needs of people living with ASD and/or a physical disability, it is timely and important to expand the evidence base to support the benefits of assistance dog placements for these populations. Therefore, the aim of our service evaluation was to explore the goals and expectations of being matched with an assistance dog prior to placement, and how these assistance dogs may impact the quality of life of adults and children with ASD and/or a physical disability and their families over an extended period of time. We found that mean quality of life scores improved significantly over time for all service users, and free-text responses highlighted the positive impact of the assistance dog post-placement (e.g., promoting independence, development of the human-animal bond, improving wider family dynamics, and reducing stigma). The findings complement and extend previous insights into the impact of assistance dogs on people with autism or a physical disability. They also highlight some challenges associated with the placement of assistance dogs and indicate the need to consider the development of further targeted support strategies.