Research published in the open access journal PLoS ONE indicates that the presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Previous studies have shown that people are more likely to receive overtures of friendship from strangers when walking a dog than when walking alone. The authors suggest that this ‘social lubricant’ effect of animals on human social interactions can be particularly important for individuals with socio-emotional disabilities.
In this study, the authors compared how 5-13 year old children with ASD interacted with adults and typically-developing peers in the presence of two guinea pigs compared to toys. When the guinea pigs were present, the children were more likely to talk and look other people in the eye plus they smiled and laughed more often.
These results indicate that animal-assisted therapy programmes may be useful in helping children with ASD integrate into classrooms and other social environments.
Source: Science Daily