Current Research

The Impact of The Barn: Parent Perceptions

Excerpts from a study by Dr. Page Buck, Associate Professor at West Chester University

  • West Chester University approved research study
  • 10 families agreed to participate
  • 60-90 minute Initial Interviews in person, at families’ homes
  • Interviews recorded, transcribed and analyzed
  • Findings grouped here in three main themes
  • 30 minute Confirmation Interviews to review findings with parents

Initial findings organized in three themes with sample quotes from interviews:

Finding 1:  Children on the autism spectrum have relationships with animals that are far more intuitive than their relationships with humans.  (This bond is bi-directional – animals have an intuitive sense of what these children need and want.)

  • He clearly relates to animals in a way that he does not always relate to people.
  • She seems to intuit what needs to happen.  Any time we would be around animals, she would clearly be a different person.
  • It’s very hard to explain what I observed about him with animals.  But, there is a communication that occurs.
  • If you have a child who is scared of everything, that animal can adjust itself…it pays attention to the cues.  People out in the community don’t tend to pay attention to them.
  • Any time we would be around animals, she would clearly be a different person.
  • She will tell the cat and the pony everything that happened in her life that day without being asked – but she doesn’t tell me.
  • It’s clear that he relates to animals in a much more comfortable way than he relates to people in general.
  • Animals found a way to reach him and teach him what he needs.

Finding 2:  Being around the animals decreases anxiety, increases frustration tolerance, and increases verbal and non-verbal expression.

  • Oh, it’s amazing.  Just the fact that he can sit there calmly and be so gentle.
  • He can be himself and not have to work so hard, and I think it’s just relaxing.
  • Animals don’t talk, they don’t say mean things to you.  People can be mean, they can tease, they can bully.
  • It’s also showed her how to be gentle and that carries over into the family.
  • It’s definitely helped him come out of his shell.
  • He likes animals, he doesn’t have to talk to them, he can be close to them, he can touch them and he can pet them and he can feed them.  He can provide them with whatever they need but he doesn’t have to talk to them. 
  • He doesn’t show aggression when he’s near the animals.
  • After the Barn she’s just so agreeable.  She’s happy.  She’s relaxed.  We’ll have dinner.  We’ll take a bath.  It’s just a perfect evening.  It’s not a fight for her to do things. 
  • I just think that the animals don’t require things of him.  And he feels comfortable and welcomed.
  • If the animal isn’t meeting her expectations she seems to manage that much better than a human interaction or if someone isn’t.
  • She’s opening up.  She’s using more language.  Different language than she would use in a school setting.  Different behavior. 
  • It has a calming effect on him.  There is no doubt in my mind that it does.  Maybe that gives him the space to be able to articulate what’s going on. 
  • She can express herself more easily because it is less stimulating. 

Finding 3:  Parents report feeling a new and deep sense of HOPE about their children’s long term outcomes and happiness.  

  • It gives you some hope.  It gives you happiness.  As a parent, it gives you pride. 
  • Parents just really want to believe that their child can do something that they’ll be happy with. 
  • They changed her behavior; they changed the way she relates to the world. 
  • He was interacting more with the animals, (and it) carried over and helped him interact with people, definitely. 
  • I’m smiling from ear to ear right now (talking about this). 
  • She can carry on a conversation now with somebody-that was unheard of before…I really can’t even explain it; she just is different.  She is a different kid.  
  • He was acting up…and I said, ‘What’s happening?’ and he said, “Well, I’m nervous about Clara’s party.” There was a time when he couldn’t have said that…part of it has to do with Spring Brook. 
  • When I would go to pick him up he was a happy boy, and I had never had that happen with him before.  Every time we would pick him up at daycare, there would be some bad report…he would be angry almost always. 
  • If he hadn’t changed because of those animals – because of the trust and the calmness and (learning to) make relationships with the animals – I wouldn’t have been able to have a relationship with him and be able to teach him what he needs to know for life. 
  • I couldn’t be happier that, oh my gosh, there is hope. 

If you would like more information about this study, or to get involved, please contact us.