Special Education M.A.

Number of Pages


Year Approved


First Advisor

Cavalier, Meg

Second Reader

Erin Wanat;


Animals and children are often associated together because there is an innate connection between them. That connection is even more compelling concerning children with special needs. In the past few decades studies have increased involving the various ways animals are used in educational settings. Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to decrease anxiety and behavioral problems, increase prosocial interactions and engage withdrawn students with emotional behavioral disorders. Reading to canines has been shown to increase fluency, confidence, attendance, and motivation while decreasing anxiety to read out loud and negative perceptions of school in students with varied disabilities. Pets in the classroom, who were hugely popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s, are gaining acceptance again through experiential learning which provides evidence of better knowledge retention, increased engagement, cooperative learning opportunities and responsibility. Service animals have been used for students with vision or mobility challenges and are becoming more common in school settings for students with autism, seizures, diabetes, and anxiety. Additionally, there are outreach programs at zoological institutions, such as the AuSM program through the Autism Society of Minnesota, that target special needs and build programs geared for that unique population. Currently activities involving animals are not considered evidence-based practices. However, with increased research, that status is on track to be amended as teachers and education researchers continue to discover how animals can benefit students with special needs.

Degree Name

Special Education M.A.

Document Type

Masterʼs thesis