According to a new study published in the journal Developmental Psychobiology children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may feel more at ease when they are in the presence of pets.
Researchers from Purdue University have discovered that pets help with lowering social anxiety in children who suffer from autism. When children suffering from this condition are in the presence of pets their stress levels drop. So animals such as guinea pigs, cats and dogs could be a beneficial addition to the treatment of children who suffer from autism. This can help them improve their social skills and have a better interaction with people.
The study involved 114 children who had between five and twelve years old. They were divided into 38 groups, each group consisting of three children. One of the children had autism and the other two were developing peers. All of the children were provided with a wrist band which kept track of their skin conductance. When an individual feels anxious, fearful or excited and electric charge moves quicker through the skin. Skin conductance represents the ease at which an unobservable electric charge passes through the skin.
The children were required to read a book silently for a few minutes. Afterwards they had to read aloud in front of the other group members. Then they were brought toys and were asked to play for ten minutes. In the end two guinea pigs were brought to them and the children spent 10 minutes with the animals while the researchers supervised them.
According to James Griffin of the Child Development and Behavior Branch at Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) said that studies from the past have also proved that autistic children function better socially in the presence of companion animals.
In this study children with autism showed a higher skin conductance when they were supposed to read and play with toys, but when the guinea pigs were brought into the room the skin conductance level decreased dramatically.
The study shows that animals may play an important role in helping children with autism develop their social skills. However the lead author of the study, Dr. Marguerite O’Haire of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond in the College of Veterinary Medicine (Purdue University, Indiana), warned parents that this does not mean they have to rush to the pet store and buy an animal. She added that further research needs to be conducted in order to establish how exactly animals can be used in treating children with autism.
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