qualitative behaviour assessment

Engagement behaviour of donkeys during equine assisted activities

Presentation date

There is a wealth of research citing the benefits of Equid Assisted Interventions (EAI's) but these are often anthropocentric and fail to include measures that capture donkey engagement behaviours during sessions. This observational bias, possibly quite common in EAI research, reinforces the assumption that animal activities are somehow enriching for the non-human animal thus welfare interests can be overlooked. By designing and implementing a unique Quality of Engagement Tool (QET), I was able to capture engagement behaviours of both donkeys and autistic children during interaction sessions and identify potential enrichment or welfare measures for both species participants.

Should autistic children and donkeys be equal participants?

Presentation date

We have seen a rise in research investigating equine assisted interventions to relieve problematic traits in children with autism. Parents have been exposed to promises about the potential changes that such interventions achieves but the evidence for non-verbal complex children with autism has been sadly thin and such research usually assumes equines are a homogenous group without considering that their individual characters and emotional state could play a role in the encounter.  Often Autism research focuses on dis-ability rather than the autists’ unique abilities which could provide an alternative lens into AAI. This project aims to mark a new era of multidisciplinary AAI research that answers Birke’s question ‘what’s in it for the animals’ by using The Qualitative Behaviour Assessment tool that includes welfare and emotional state of, in this case, donkeys, Minero et al. A Narrative Inquiry method measures both children and families interpretation of the encounters.

This research aims to identify if the synthesis of encounter between donkey and autistic child can (a) drive a new respect for equine- human sensibility whilst (b) providing a genuine enrichment experience for donkeys living in an animal welfare sanctuary and (c) could these sessions show parents and families the unique potential of their autistic child, evidence of a capacity that could facilitate a better understanding of the child’s perception?

  • Human Participants: 4 non-verbal Autistic children with complex needs between 4-8 years old
  • Donkey Participants: 4 AAI facilitators from a UK animal sanctuary.

Methodology:

  • Repeated Measures design with 2 non participant observers (one child, one donkey focused) with controlled conditions
  • Semi structured interviews were conducted with families, grooms and AAI staff as well as the children using augmentative communication
  • Early findings: are showing some correlation of outcomes between each child and donkey pair.

The synthesis of encounters among autistic children and donkeys: Does this particular form of animal assisted intervention show positive outcomes for both species?

Presentation date

We have seen a rise in research investigating equine assisted interventions to relieve problematic traits in children with autism.  Parents have been exposed to promises about the potential changes that such interventions achieves but the evidence for non-verbal complex children with autism has been sadly thin and such research usually assumes equines are a homogenous group without considering that their individual characters and emotional state could play a role in the encounter.  Often Autism research focuses on disability rather than the autists’ unique abilities which could provide an alternative lens into AAI.  This project aims to mark a new era of multidisciplinary AAI research that answers Birke’s question ‘what’s in it for the animals’ by using The Qualitative Behaviour Assessment tool that includes welfare and emotional state of, in this case, donkeys, Minero et al. A Narrative Inquiry method measures both children and families interpretation of the encounters.  

This research aims to identify if the synthesis of encounter between donkey and autistic child can (a) drive a new respect for equine- human sensibility whilst (b) providing a genuine enrichment experience for donkeys living in an animal welfare sanctuary and (c) could these sessions show parents and families the unique potential of their autistic child, evidence of a capacity that could facilitate a better understanding of the child’s perception?

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