Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common, complex disorder that adversely affects a child in school and family functioning and normal childhood socialization processes. It is striking that children with ADHD are often characterized by poor self-regulation, self-esteem, and social behaviors. Although the literature is filled with examples of how animals can promote human physical and emotional wellness in children, there is a lack of well-controlled, randomized clinical trials studying Human- Animal Interactions (HAI). Many researchers and scholars note that although the utilization of animals may be highly appealing, the fact that a patient enjoyed the interaction with an animal does not substantiate its efficacy as a therapeutic procedure. Conducting a controlled study of HAI in a therapeutic, psychoeducational setting may serve to demystify its use as a paradigm while providing a first step towards developing best practice guidelines within a well characterized, behaviorally disturbed population of children with ADHD, the most common psychiatric diagnosis of childhood. The goal of this proposal is to investigate the role of HAI in promoting mental and emotional well-being in school-aged children diagnosed with ADHD. Children between the ages of 7 to 9 years with a current diagnosis of ADHD (N=108) will be recruited into the study and will be randomized into one of two treatment conditions: Social Skills Training in combination with HAI with puppies (n=54), and Social Skills Training in combination with HAI Sham with stuffed animal puppies (n=54). In addition, approximately equal numbers of subjects from these groups will be wait listed for 12 weeks as a control condition (n=54). We will study participants in 6 cohorts in the psychoeducational, therapeutic school setting of the University of California, Child Development Center and will measure outcomes using the highly structured laboratory school protocol for standardization and collection of classroom performance and ratings of attention, deportment and well being at baseline, after the 12-week period, and again at 6 weeks later to assess potential maintenance of effects. This study will set the stage for future investigations on the effects of HAI in children and adolescents with ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders.

Public Health Relevance

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most prevalent childhood psychiatric disorder in the United States. Traditional medication treatments offer relatively immediate help to most children with ADHD, but there are pragmatic and safety issues that require the development of alternative interventions. The use of Human-Animal Interactions (HAI) may be one way to improve mental health and social skills in children without such risks. This study will provide insight into the role of social skills training and HAI on self-regulation, self-esteem and social behaviors in children with ADHD, a neurodevelopmental group that typically presents with poor social skills.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZHD1-DSR-H (30))
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Esposito, Layla E
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University of California Irvine
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Schuck, Sabrina E B; Emmerson, Natasha A; Fine, Aubrey H et al. (2015) Canine-assisted therapy for children with ADHD: preliminary findings from the positive assertive cooperative kids study. J Atten Disord 19:125-37