Table of Contents
This evaluation form presupposes the analysis and assessment of the short-term and long-term impacts and consequences of the implementation of animal-assisted therapy at schools with the main purpose of supporting autistic children and assisting them in the adaptation to the educational and social conditions of development. The evaluation of the program starts with the definition of the basic long-term goals that determine the usefulness and efficiency of the suggested program. They are:
- To increase awareness of the disability and methods of dealing with mental disorders at schools;
- To improve autistic children’s social behavior and communicative skills;
- To increase family incomes due to the introduction of the free therapeutic sessions at schools;
- To improve autistic children’s academic progress and cognitive capacities;
- To enhance equality in the light of educational dimension.
Problem Statement and Background
There are many studies that focus on the positive connection between the treatment of autism and interaction with animals. Among them, the studies of Funahashi, Grandgeorge, O’Haire, Siewertsen, and Ward should be mentioned. According to the recent studies, interaction with animals assists autistic children in developing prosocial behavior, acquiring communicative skills, and improving movement coordination and cooperation with other children (Grandgeorge et al., 2012). At the same time, animal-assisted therapies allow children improve the children’s cognitive, logical, and mnemonic processes as well as promotes higher educational achievements and studying progress (Lindgren, & Doobay, 2011). Correspondingly, the implementation of animal-assisted therapy at schools can make a positive impact on the studying performance and prosocial behavior of children with autism spectrum disorders.
Currently, there are many such organizations that aim at the implementation and maintenance of animal-assisted therapy at schools. These are, for example, Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Dog B.O.N.E.S, Caring Canines, Massachusetts Pet Partners, New England Pet Partners, The People and Pet Foundation, and others (Majić, Gutzmann, Heinz, Lang, & Rapp, 2013). The research of O’Haire states that interaction with dogs and horses results in the remarkable improvement of the children’s emotions and leads to the decrease of stresses and anxiety in approximately 50% of cases (O’Haire, 2013). Additionally, the positive impacts of animal-assisted therapy in the work with autistic children are described in the studies of S. Ward, who states that pet therapy allows autistic children to develop their cognitive and communicative skills in the majority of cases (Ward, et al., 2013). Similarly, pet therapy assists in acquiring prosocial behavioral skills and developing positive personal traits of character (Funahashi, Gruebler, Aoki, Kadone, & Suzuki, 2014). Thus, the conclusion is that animal-assisted therapies prove to be an effective and reliable intervention in the work with autistic children.
The problem of implementing animal-assisted therapy at schools is important, considering the amounts of children suffering from autism spectrum disorders. According to the statistics, one child out of 68 suffers from this disorder (Lindgren, & Doobay, 2011). However, statistics show a tendency of these numbers to increase, emphasizing the need for the creation of new effective solutions and implications. The studies show that animal-assisted therapy can serve as a positive intervention, which may help improve the statistics and reduce the level of autism incidence (Siewertsen, French, & Teramoto, 2015). From this point of view, the introduction of animal-assisted therapy at schools is logically justified, scientifically proved, and experimentally researched.
Nowadays, the implementation of animal-assisted therapy at schools finds significant limitations connected with the lack of material basis, professional qualifications of the facilitator and counselors, sources of funding, and general principles and methods of guaranteeing the appropriate functioning of the pet programs in the school environment. Therefore, the suggested animal-assisted therapy will include a set of therapeutic sessions and classes for the autistic children in the school environment. The implementation of the program calls for the appropriate professional, material, financial, organizational, and school support. The introduction of the program aims at the cooperation with the local non-governmental and non-profitable organizations, charity institutions, and health care services. The implementation of the program aims at improving the educational capacities of children, facilitating the process of socialization, and promoting the tolerant and respectful attitude to the social diversities and disabilities in particular.
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Difference between Formative and Summative Evaluation Forms
The evaluation of the program is an essential stage of its implementation, as it allows all the involved parties (families, children, school personnel, teachers, counselors, facilitators and coordinators of the program, stakeholders, NGOs, etc.) to get an insight into its functioning and purposes. The program evaluation focuses on the analysis of the program’s objectives, strong sides and areas of development. In other words, it aims at the analysis of the activities and resources needed for the program’s implementation and assessment of its impacts, results, and consequences (Knowlton, & Phillips, 2013). There are different types and forms of evaluation, the combination of which allows reaching high results in the implementation of the chosen program.
It is possible to distinguish between the formative and summative forms of program planning and evaluation. Formative evaluation precedes the implementation of the program, as it defines its major characteristics, requirements, needs, and potential outcomes (Kettner, Moroney, & Martin, 2013). Formative evaluation helps check the suitability of the program, indicate its structural components, and outline the optimal ways of its implementation. During this stage, the involved parties can introduce their ideas, suggestions, and proposals regarding the improvement of the existed planning. In such a way, the program can be adjusted to the current demands of the community and involve all the necessary additions and improvements. The most frequent sources of formative evaluation are the following.
- Monthly reports from the clients (families with autistic children) approved by the program coordinators. The aim of such reports is the analysis of the outcomes of the program with the emphasis on its strong and weak sides.
- Monthly expense reports completed by the program coordinator. These reports will help trace the utilization of costs, track the amounts of expenditures, and make future financial planning and forecasts.
- Monthly reports from the schools, which describe the productivity of the implemented program and express their ideas and suggestions regarding its improvement.
- Client reviews that include the information from the above-mentioned documents. Client reviews help measure the efficiency of the program and trace the available improvements in the behavior of the clients.
- Counseling reports completed by the therapists and counselors of the program. These reports focus on the analysis of the organization of the program and inform about its progress or failures if any.
- E-mails, which are used mainly for formal communication between the clients and program coordinators.
While the formative evaluation is completed during the implementation of the program, the summative evaluation is done in the written form at the end of the project. It aims at the representation of the program’ outcomes, consequences, progress or regression (Kettner, Moroney, & Martin, 2013). The sources of summative evaluation are the following.
- Annual reviews completed by all involved parties of the program. They are written every year and summarize the results of the program. Annual reports provide important information concerning the functioning of the program, its strengths and weakness, and potential suggestions for the future improvements.
- Annual expense reports that allow tracking the expenditures of the program and calculate the costs required for its effective maintaining.
- Questionnaires completed by family members and children regarding the quality of the program and its noticeable effects. The questionnaires allow checking the productivity of the program considering the subjective opinions and visions of the clients.
Indicators of Program’s Efficiency
Completing formative and summative evaluations allows checking the efficiency and suitability of animal-assisted therapy at schools. The indicators are listed below.
Outcome 1: Increased awareness of the disability and methods of dealing with the mental disorders at schools.
Indicator: Increased social inclusion of the autistic children and improvements in their prosocial behavior and patterns of communication.
Population: School students with autism spectrum disorders.
Threshold: a) The increased awareness of the disability should be noticeable at the end of the first year, after the successful implementation of optional classes, seminars, trainings, interactive games, and exercises in the work with the students.
b) The monthly reports from the client and school personnel should contain information about the better socialization of autistic children and the improvement of their cognitive capacities.
Outcome 2: Improved children’s social behavior and communicative skills.
Indicator: Autistic children establish better contacts and relationships with other students. Children with autism can better formulate their expressions and use verbal language in the conversations.
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Population: School students with autism spectrum disorders.
Threshold: a) The outcome should be reached by the end of the first year. The questionnaires from the children are the source that can help identify the amount of friendly relations and frequency of participation in public educational events and projects.
b) The annual reviews and monthly reports from the program coordinator should inform about the changes in the social behavior of children and provide information regarding their participation in mass events.
Outcome 3: Increased family incomes due to the introduction of free therapeutic sessions at schools.
Indicator: Families pay less for the treatment programs and counseling sessions due to the existence of free services at schools.
Population: Consumers, participants of animal-assisted programs.
Threshold: a) Questionnaires completed by parents at the end of the year should inform about the changes in their budgets and improvement of living conditions on the account of the introduction of the school therapies.
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b) Monthly costs reports, client reports, and annual expense reports should prove the positive changes in the financial situation of the families with autistic children.
Outcome 4: Improved children’s academic progress and cognitive capacities.
Indicator: Autistic children demonstrate improved cognitive, mnemonic, thinking, and attention processes. They show better academic achievements and a higher level of participation in activities.
Population: School students with autism spectrum disorders.
Threshold: a) The children get better marks, demonstrate a higher interest in the academic field, and participate in student competitions.
b) Monthly reports from the clients, school personnel and clients’ reviews witness about the improvement of the quality of studying and development of new areas of academic interest among autistic children.
Outcome 5: Enhanced equality in the light of the educational dimension.
Indicator: School communities develop a comprehensive, supportive and tolerant attitude to the children with disabilities. The educational environment adjusts to the needs and demands of every student, considering the individual peculiarities and diversities.
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Population: Community, schools, families, disabled students.
Threshold: a) School students and personnel speak freely about the social differences and diversities and demonstrate respectful attitude to all individuals.
b) Students gain additional motivation to study and demonstrate better academic achievements.
c) The annual reviews and questionnaires inform about the positive qualitative changes in the prosocial behavior of the students and their readiness to accept diversities in the educational dimension.
Further Implications of Evaluation Data
The evaluation data provides many opportunities for the improving of the program, preventing failures and drawbacks, emphasizing the strong sides, and discussing new suggestions and ideas for future planning of their implementation. It is important to consider the evaluative results at all stages of the program’s implementation, as they allow checking the suitability of the program, define the required changes, and introduce innovations according to the context and demands of the community. The noticeable outcomes of the animal-assisted therapy can be observed at the end of the first year. At this time, the school community and families should experience the positive results of the new program and define the new effective ways of its development in the future.