Date of Paper/Work


Type of Paper/Work

Doctoral Project

Degree Name

Doctor of Occupational Therapy


Occupational Science/Occupational Therapy

First Advisor

Kristen Maisano


Doctor of Occupational Therapy


Introduction: In the United States, one out of every 36 children will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age eight (CDC, 2020). For parents with a child with ASD, their child’s safety and wellbeing can be a daily concern. An autism assistance dog (AAD), like those trained by Can Do Canines, can greatly improve the quality of life of the entire family. However, this type of assistance dog is limited due to many factors, leading Can Do Canines, and many other assistance dog training organizations, to have substantial waitlists for families wishing to receive an AAD.

Purpose: The purpose of this doctoral capstone project was to develop an educational module on a family-based training program that would allow families to access an online training portal with videos to help them train their own family dogs to become AADs for their children. An educational module was needed to clarify the differences between a trained autism assistance dog provided by Can Do Canines and a family trained assist dog, and to improve accessibility to the benefits that assistance dogs provide to children with ASD.

Approach: A backward design approach was utilized for this project because the educational module about the program could not be created if there was no program outline to base the module off of. Interviews were conducted with a United Kingdom-based assistance dog program, Dogs for Good, who launched a similar family-based training program, in order to determine the most successful layout and pre-education needed to make Can Do Canine’s family-based training program successful.

Outcomes: This program was evaluated with a focus group to provide qualitative feedback on the first drafts of all deliverables, and from a final survey delivered to all focus group members once final edits to deliverables had been made to provide qualitative and quantitative feedback. Focus group feedback largely centered around the need for more clarity on the differences between a trained assistance dog and a family-trained dog, that the order of use of the deliverables made sense, and the graphics were clear and understandable. Final survey feedback reflected similar results for clarity of graphics, helpfulness of supplemental deliverables for the program, and helpfulness of having two versions of the education module to address various learning styles. Once the Can Do Canines staff is able to develop the online portal, the pilot program can be launched.

Recommendations: Firstly, it is important that this program is launched to a small portion of families currently on the waitlist for a Can Do Canines AAD in order to address any issues that may arise with program roll out, and to determine the true efficacy of the education module. Secondly, adding an occupational therapist to client services teams that connect assistance dogs with families is recommended due to an occupational therapist’s unique holistic and client-centered skill set that will allow the dog to fully assist a client in improving their daily occupational engagement.