Children with autism show increased positive social behaviors when they are with an animal. A new study led by Marguerite E. O’Haire from the University of Queensland uncovered the findings.
Children between the ages of 5 and 13 who had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were asked to interact with adults and children when animals were and were not present.
Animals act as 'social lubricant' for ASD kids
When the children’s responses were analyzed, the researchers found that they were more talkative, made more physical contact and made more eye contact when guinea pigs were present. Also, when the animals were present, the autistic children were more receptive to social advances from their peers.
The animals seemed to act as a “social lubricant,” inviting friendly behavior. The children laughed and smiled more when the animals were in sight. Additionally, they showed less frowning, whining and crying.
Potential to improve relationships and classroom dynamics
The ability for animals to ease communication challenges for kids with ASD could help them improve their relationships with teachers, therapists and other adults, including their parents. Animals could even help children go a step further, improving classroom dynamics and increasing the effectiveness of the learning environment.
“For children with ASD, the school classroom can be a stressful and overwhelming environment due to social challenges and peer victimization,” researchers wrote in the PLoS ONE article. “If an animal can reduce this stress or artificially change children’s perception of the classroom and its occupants, then a child with ASD may feel more at ease and open to social approach behaviors.”
Source: PLoS ONE, MedicalNewsToday