Parents facing the challenges of raising a child with autism may have an additional tool according to a new study authored by Marguerite O’Haire, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland in Australia. Any help would surely be a relief as 1 in 50 children in the U.S. now has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to new numbers issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On the heels of that report, the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative has made new research available showing pets can help children with autism. This new study, which is located on HABRI Central, an online hub that congregates research relating to human-animal interaction, finds that social behaviors increase in children with autism in the presence of animals compared to toys.
“The presence of an animal appears to encourage socialization among children with autism and their peers,” said Ms. O'Haire. “When with an animal, children with autism smiled and laughed more often, were more talkative, and looked at people's faces more than they did when with toys,” she added.
In the study researchers examined the interactions of children with ASD along with an adult and peers in the presence of two guinea pigs compared to toys. Ninety-nine children from 15 classrooms and four schools met the criteria and participated in groups of three. Each group was filmed and observed during three 10-minute free-play sessions with toys and three 10-minute sessions with the guinea pigs. Participants demonstrated more social behaviors including talking, looking at faces and making tactile contact in the presence of animals compared to toys. Participants also displayed more positive prosocial behaviors such as smiling and laughing and less self-focused behaviors and negative affects including frowning, crying and whining while in the presence of animals compared to toys. For more information, visit http://habricentral.org/resources/1947.
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