Posted in: Health Studies

Animals Help Autism Spectrum Disorder: New Evidence

animals help autism

There’s new evidence that animals help autistic children. A team of researchers led by Marguerite E. O’Haire in Australia studied children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), according to a new study described by Sarah Glynn at Medical News Today.

The researchers observed 114 children, who were between the ages of 5 and 13, when they tried to socialize with two guinea pigs nearby. Then they watched them socialize with toys present instead of the furry pets. The children were able to laugh, talk, and look at faces more often when the guinea pigs were there.

Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science who is also autistic, has written extensively about her personal and professional experience with animals. Her essay, “Do Animals and People with Autism Have True Consciousness?” described how she thinks and how it resembles the way animals think.

“There are many language based abstract concepts that I do not understand. To understand a concept I have to form a visual image in my imagination,” she explained. She feels a special understanding with animals because they too are thought to visualize rather than verbalize when they’re thinking.

Grandin’s kinship with animals is so deep that she is the author of Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavioras well as many other books on related topics.

O’Haire and her colleagues published the new study on Wednesday in science journal PLOS One. They stated that ASD is a growing problem now affecting 1 in 91 children born in the United States. Autism impairs the individual’s ability to socialize and communicate, sometimes severely.

The scientists theorized:

“The ‘social lubricant’ effect of animals can be particularly important for individuals with disabilities, for whom the presence of an animal can provide a normalizing effect and a conversation starter.” They were inspired by previous studies with other animals, including dogs, turtles, and rabbits.

In other words, animals allow people to relax and focus on something besides ourselves, making it easy to talk without feeling self-conscious. I’ve found that true for most of us, so I’m not surprised that animals also help children with autism spectrum disorder. Are you?

[photo pet turtle by Elaine Radford]

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