Funding Agency: Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation Funding (UEFISCDI), Romania

Code of the project: PN-II-PT-PCCA-2013-4-0781

Number of contract: 333/01.07.2014

Title of the project: Platform for psycho-pedagogical screening and interdisciplinary interventions (animal assisted occupational therapy) for the social-emotional enrichment of autistic children and their families

Abstract of the project:

Autism Transilvania Association (ATA) is one of the most successful Romanian associations founded by parents of autistic children that have been motivated to continuously find technical sollutions not only to decrease the costs of the therapeutic interventions, but also to provide their children with the optimal expertise in terms of assessment and interventions. We aim to bring together two organisations that until now have been individually approached by ATA in the process of finding technical solutions for the optimal assessment of Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and for increasing the efficiency of the standard therapeutic procedures. The major objective of the project is to create a consortium formed by Babes-Bolyai University, ATA and D&D Research (one of the most prestigious Romanian companies in the area of psychological testing), in order to develop a platform for psycho-pedagogical screening and interdisciplinary interventions for the social-emotional enrichment of autistic children and their families. The platform will function around the following end products: (1) a Center for Psychopedagogical Screening and Interdisciplinary Interventions (located at the daily center of ATA, Cluj-Napoca), aiming to support the social and educational integration of ASD children through specialized services of diagnosis and early intervention; (2) Acquisition of a battery of psychometric tools already validated for Romanian population – the Centre will benefit from the following instruments for behavioral assessment and eligibility evaluation of social rehabilitation of persons with special needs: ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule), ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised), BASC-2 (Behavior Assessment System for Children), and Adaptive Behavior Assessment System (ABAS); (3) Design and implement Occupational Therapy Programs enhanced by animal assisted activities (dogs and horses) – Based on the highly professional psychometric evaluations of the ASD children, we aim to design two types of occupational therapy programs enhanced by animal assisted activities, such as: (a) one type (individual-centered) that can be easily integrated into the occupational therapy programs of the daily centered of ATA, which will be using therapy dogs, and (b) another type (family-centered) that will address not only the ASD children, but also their families, i.e., parents and siblings – this type of program will be delivered under the form of two therapeutic camps using occupational therapy programs enhanced by horse-assisted activities. The novelty of this types of programs is that they will be organised within the Sensory Integration paradigm (Ayers, 1972), aiming to use animals to motivate the children to improve their sensorial, social and learning abilities by interacting with naturally occuring stimuli; (4). Providing educational component for parents and staff involved in the therapeutic programs of the ASD children, i.e., training in elements of occupational therapy and animal-assisted therapy, based on the specific socio-emotional needs of the children. Research indicates that families of ASD children may face extreme challenges in providing the necessary emotional and educational environment for them. This project takes into consideration the family context of the ASD children and incorporates animals as naturally-occurring motivational agents in the therapeutic plans.