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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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News and Events
News and Events

The Help Group and USC form a new partnership
March 6, 2015

Autism Community and Partners Faculty Research

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By Mike McNulty

The Help Group is pleased to announce an innovative partnership between The Help Group and the University of Southern California (USC) Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. The Help Group – USC Occupational Science Initiative is dedicated to developing evidence-based intervention programs for children with autism spectrum disorder through an interdisciplinary team of researchers, educators and clinicians.

The collaboration was established to better identify how animal-assisted intervention can be integrated into a curriculum that meets the educational and therapeutic needs of students in The Help Group’s five autism schools.

“With the success of our Paws and Pals program, we recognized the benefits of having volunteers and their therapy dogs visiting our classrooms and interacting with children across the autism spectrum,” said Dr. Barbara Firestone, president and chief executive officer of The Help Group, a national non-profit organization serving children with special needs related to autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays, abuse and emotional problems. “The Initiative holds great promise as one of the first of its kind to demonstrate how therapy animals can be utilized to help to facilitate social behavior and communication in children and teens with autism.”

Leading the effort on behalf of USC is Olga Solomon, assistant professor at the USC Chan Division. Dr. Solomon, a 2014 Summit presenter, also led a Distinguished Lecture Series presentation at The Help Group on “Animal-Assisted Therapy in Classroom and Clinical Settings” to provide practical strategies for including therapy dogs in a school setting. Joining The Help Group, under the mentorship of Dr. Solomon, is occupational therapy doctoral resident Allie Ticktin.

A program development and evaluation project is already underway this academic year at The Help Group. Therapy dog/handler teams are working in coordination with therapists and educators to develop animal-assisted activities for five-to-seven-years-old students with mild cognitive delays and social and communicative challenges.

The Initiative is The Help Group’s third partnership with a leading research university. In 1999, The Help Group partnered with the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior to create The Help Group Neuropsychology program, and once again in 2007 to form the groundbreaking Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance.

“We are delighted to join with USC on this cutting-edge initiative to expand research into animal-assisted intervention,” said Firestone, “and look forward to a productive collaboration to foster growth and progress for young people with autism.”