Animals Reduce Social Anxiety In Children With Autism, Study Suggests

There may soon be new hope for treating social anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Predominantly, children with ASD are also sufferers of severe stress during social interactions, which consequently, leads to social isolation, among other problems.

However, thanks to recent experiments, researchers are now starting to pinpoint new potential treatments for the crippling disorder.

According to a study published by Developmental Psychology, out of all things, animals are capable of providing relief to children with social anxiety.

The Experiment

A total of 114 children — 38 of which had ASD — were chosen for the experiment. Wrists were fitted with a special device which measured electrical charges during social interaction.

The goal was to scrutinize the biological responses — in addition to anxiety levels — for signs of social stress. The end results would then give researchers a more comprehensive view on how autistic children react to social situations.

It began with the children being divided into three groups. Each group included one child with autism and two without. The children were then given a book to read alone while being monitored.

Thereafter, the children were asked to read with their peers. It was at this time when anxiety levels and biological factors were being examined. Additionally, toys were brought in during the 10-minute interaction period.

Researchers then added a guinea pig to the social setting and closely observed their behavior. Known for its harmless and small size, guinea pigs were chosen after prior studies suggested their effectiveness.

At a glance, the children with ASD were experiencing lower levels of social stress. However, after reading the levels of anxiety from the wrist device, researchers discovered what they have been speculating for quite some time now.

The Results Are Exciting

It was concluded that children suffering from ASD showed higher levels of skin conductance. In other words, this meant higher levels of anxiety were detected during social interaction.

The experiment also suggests animals play a major role in reducing social stress. As numerous media outlets have reported, including PsychCentral, the new study could very well help health professionals develop more solid treatments against autistism.

Furthermore, scientists believe that pets are seen as offerers of unqualified acceptance. This is mainly why children feel more secure in their presence. In the study, during the 10-minute session with the guinea pig, children with autism saw diminished levels of anxiety.

The findings led researchers to believe that not just guinea pigs, but dogs, cats, and other pets, can improve the social skills that autistic children lack.

Moreover, during social interaction, the end results for ASD children showed a 43 percent decrease in skin conductance.

However, in light of these results, it should not serve as an excuse for parents to go out and buy an animal as treatment. More studies need to be conducted to further prove what researchers are concluding.

Indeed, the results do provide hope for parents who just want to see their autistic child participate socially with their peers. But with each new study, we are getting one step closer to finding the help needed to properly treat this disorder.

We should expect to see more studies on autism as health professionals are speculating the disorder will affect half of America’s child population by 2025.

[Photo via China Photos / Getty Images]