Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Jo Beth DeSoto


Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulties with social communication and prosocial behaviors. Due to a lack of social communication and social interaction skills among children with ASD, special education teachers are tasked with providing meaningful social opportunities to them to facilitate their learning of these skills. Special education literature lacks research studies about how dog-based animal-assisted interventions (AAI) can improve social communication outcomes for children in a school setting. The purpose of this qualitative exploratory case study, guided by Bowlby's theory of attachment and the human-animal bond concept, was to explore, describe, and improve the understanding of how elementary teachers use dog-based AAI programs in their classrooms to facilitate social communication skill development for students with ASD. Data were collected through individual interviews of 10 elementary teachers and child-study team members who used AAI programs within their buildings. Data were openly coded using thematic analysis. Key findings of the study revealed that a therapy dog could act as a stimulus for social interactions as well as facilitate students' social interaction participation. The results also indicated the importance of the teacher's role in implementing AAI programs that target social communication skills. This study may contribute to the field of special education practice by promoting the implementation of more AAI programs in educational settings, not just for students with ASD, but also potentially for the whole school community.