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Open Access Research article

Effects of a dolphin interaction program on children with autism spectrum disorders – an exploratory research

Emílio Salgueiro1*, Laura Nunes2, Alexandra Barros3, João Maroco1, Ana Isabel Salgueiro4 and Manuel E dos Santos5

Author Affiliations

1 Unidade de Investigação em Psicologia e Saúde. ISPA – Instituto Universitário, Rua Jardim do Tabaco, 44, 1149-041, Lisbon, Portugal

2 Hospital de Faro, Faro, Portugal

3 Hospital de Santa Maria, Lisbon, Portugal

4 Apoiar – Consultadoria em Saúde Mental e Linguagem, Lda., Lisbon, Portugal

5 Unidade de Investigação em Eco-etologia. ISPA – Instituto Universitário, Rua Jardim do Tabaco, 44, 1149-041, Lisbon, Portugal

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:199  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-199

Published: 26 April 2012



Interaction programs involving dolphins and patients with various pathologies or developmental disorders (e.g., cerebral palsy, intellectual impairment, autism, atopic dermatitis, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression) have stimulated interest in their beneficial effects and therapeutic potential. However, the true effects observed in different clinical and psycho-educational setups are still controversial.


An evaluation protocol consisting of the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), Psychoeducational Profile-Revised (PEP-R), Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC), Theory of Mind Tasks (ToM Tasks) and a custom-made Interaction Evaluation Grid (IEG) to evaluate behavioural complexity during in-pool interactions was applied to 10 children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The ATEC, ToM Tasks and CARS results show no benefits of the dolphin interaction program. Interestingly, the PEP-R suggests some statistically significant effects on ‘Overall development score’, as well as on their ‘Fine motor development’, ‘Cognitive performance’ and ‘Cognitive verbal development’. Also, a significant evolution in behavioural complexity was shown by the IEG.


This study does not support significant developmental progress resulting from the dolphin interaction program.