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Animals’ presence might ease social anxiety in children with autism

June 5, 2015

When animals are present, children with autism spectrum disorders have lower readings on a device that detects anxiety and other forms of social arousal while interacting with their peers, according to a new study.

The findings suggest companion animals — such as dogs, cats or the guinea pigs in the study — might be a helpful addition to treatment programs designed to help children with ASDs improve their social skills and interactions with other people.

The study, published April 27 on the website of the journal Developmental Psychobiology, was conducted by Marguerite O’Haire, PhD, from the Center for the Human-Animal Bond in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and colleagues in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

“Previous studies suggest that in the presence of companion animals, children with autism spectrum disorders function better socially,” James Griffin, PhD, of the Child Development and Behavior Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a news release. “This study provides physiological evidence that the proximity of animals eases the stress that children with autism may experience in social situations.”

This study is among several funded by a public-private partnership established in 2008 between NICHD, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, a division of Mars Inc., to establish a human-animal interaction research program to support studies relevant to child development, health and the therapeutic use of animals.

“By providing support for these research studies, we hope to generate more definitive answers about how human-animal interaction affects health,” he said in the release.

For the current study, O’Haire and her colleagues measured skin conductance.

(Source: blog.todayinot.com)


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