Exploring methodologies for capturing multispecies engagement in equid assisted activities: the perspective of autistic children and donkeys

Using equids for their assumed therapeutic impact on humans is a growing area of ​​knowledge in human health sciences. The impact of Equid Assisted Activities (EAA) is often measured by psychometric test score changes for the human. Thus, evidence for the practice tends to be assessed through an anthropocentric lens. The research described in this article consisted of exploring a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methodologies for measuring EAA through the perspective of autistic children and their donkey partners. The Quality of Engagement Tool (QET) is introduced as an instrument to measure ongoing engagement between participants during sessions. Narrative Analysis and Narrative Ethology captured tangential and sequential stories of interactions that revealed the individuality of each child or donkey participant's experience. The findings identified that one participant was able to affect their partner's engagement behavior irrespective of species, and that both donkeys and children modified their behaviors when interacting with a member of the opposite species. The results suggest that, in principle, EAA has the potential to bring about behavioural changes to the other species. Therefore, in order to ensure validity, both the human and equid's ongoing responses must be measured equally in future research.

Published online ahead of print.

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