Animals can significantly increase positive social behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder.
Interaction with animals can have great health benefits.
Pets can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, get more exercise, and reduce stress.
Children with autism spectrum disorder have difficulties interacting socially, and often suffer from anxiety and stress.
The results of a new study, published in the journal PLoS One, show that the presence of animals encourages social interaction among children with autism, so the inclusion of an animal in children's recreational activities or at home can be an effective way to promote socialization with other children and adults.
The research involved 99 children between the ages of 5 and 13, with or without autism, who played with toys or interacted with two guinea pigs.
When they were with the guinea pigs, the children with autism were more likely to talk and look at their peers than when they were with the toys. They were also more open to peers approaching them and less likely to cry or complain.
Overall, children with autism had 55% more social behaviors when they were with animals than with toys, and they smiled more than twice as much.
The guinea pigs in the study had not been trained, and were chosen simply for being good pets.