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Michelle Whitham Jones

I am a second-year PhD Anthrozoology student. Prior to returning to academia I worked with children and adults with learning difficulties for 25 years within education and care settings. My interest in HAI (Human Animal Interactions) stemmed from the dogs that were very much a part my work as Principal of a school for children with Dyslexia and Autism. My husband and I share our lives with four horses and two cats who pay their way by keeping us in the moment and revealing their superior ability to listen without comment (if the cats are of a mind to listen…).

My PhD research (development of an instrument to measure intersubjectivity between children with autism and donkeys) responds to critics of Equine Assisted Activities (EAA) that question the efficacy of research that reports benefits for children with autism. I argue that before benefits can be measured, we first need to establish the quality of any intersubjectivity that takes place between both human and non-human participants. My research utilises both qualitative and quantitative data collection to demonstrate the dynamic child–donkey interaction as an essential measurement in EAA. This project aims to identify if the encounter between donkey and autistic child can (a) demonstrate interspecies intersubjectivity that can provide the basis of further research regarding the benefits of Equine Assisted Activities (b) provide a genuine enrichment experience for donkeys living in an animal welfare sanctuary (c) show parents and families the unique potential of their autistic child, evidence of a capacity that could facilitate a better understanding of the child’s perception?