Dolphin Therapy and Autism Ranking: Mildly Hazardous Insufficient/Mixed evidence

Aims and Claims


Different practitioners have different aims for their particular kind of dolphin therapy. For example:

  • Breitenbach et al (2009) stated that dolphin therapy has a number of aims including to increase communicative and social-emotional behaviour and to improve mother–child interactions.
  • Nathanson et al (1998) stated that the general purpose of their programme is to encourage children to engage in desired responses in accordance with the child’s individualised therapy program. The dolphin-assisted therapy sessions are designed to “jump start” the child and to complement or reinforce other, more traditional, therapeutic procedures.
  • Servais et al (1999) stated that the purpose of their programme was to “foster learning in autistic children, by increasing their attention faculty and their motivation.”

According to Fiksdal et al (2012), there are several different theories as to why dolphin therapy might help, some more credible than others. These theories include:

  • The effect of ultrasound on human tissue and cell-structure.
  • The fact that dolphins are attracted to people with disabilities and seek to help them.
  • The feelings of reconnection and happiness that dolphins bring to disabled people. 
  • The fact that children with disabilities increase their attention to relevant stimuli in the environment as a result of their desire to interact with dolphins.


There have been various claims made for dolphin assisted therapy. For example:

  • Bin MdYusof and Chia (2012) claimed that dolphin therapy resulted in a significant reduction in stereotyped behaviors and a significant improvement in communication and social interaction in children diagnosed with autistic disorder.
  • Servais (1999) claimed that dolphin therapy can effectively improve language, behavior, cognitive processing, attention and motivation to learn in people with certain medical conditions including autism.
  • Nathanson et al (1997) claimed that dolphin therapy can significantly increase motivation, attention, gross and fine motor skills, speech and language in children with range of conditions including autism. In addition, they suggest that two weeks of dolphin therapy can achieve the same – or better – results as six months of conventional physical or speech therapy
18 Dec 2017
Last Review
01 Nov 2017
Next Review
01 Nov 2020