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Dolphin Therapy and Autism

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Ranking : Insufficient/Mixed evidenceMildly Hazardous

Type(s) : Other


Dolphin, photo by Charlie Phillips There are many different kinds of dolphin therapy. The simplest involve the child swimming with, touching or ‘looking after’ dolphins.

The more complex therapies, such as Dolphin-Assisted Therapy (DAT), are based on structured programmes which are supposedly designed to meet the needs of the individual child.

In DAT the child is encouraged to complete one or more pre-determined tasks, such as placing a ring on a peg or saying a word. If the child completes the task to a satisfactory standard, he or she is rewarded by being allowed to interact with a dolphin.

This interaction may include touching or kissing the dolphin, or getting into the water and taking a ride holding onto the dolphin’s dorsal fin.


There is a limited amount of low quality, inconclusive research evidence on the use of dolphin therapy as a treatment for people with autism.

Dolphin therapy presents a number of ethical issues, and some physical threats, to both people and dolphins, which may be difficult to overcome. Of particular concern are the potential for aggressive behaviour by dolphins towards swimmers and the potential for disease transmission between humans and dolphins.

Alternatives to dolphin therapy are available, at a much lower financial cost and without the potential harm to the people and the dolphins involved.

Because of this we cannot recommend the use of dolphin therapy as a treatment for people with autism.

More information

Please see the Advanced version of this page for more information about this intervention, including relevant research studies and details of how we ranked it.


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Last Updated : 08/08/2013
Next Review : 08/08/2016
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