Whatever it is about having a pet, they sure make people happier. And kinder. And more friendly. And… just better.
Former studies have actually shown that people are more likely to have positive social interactions when they walk a dog than when they walk alone. Recently, researchers from the University of Queensland studied the way in which pets could affect children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a condition that afflicts up to one in every 91 children.
With autism on the rise, medical professionals are eagerly searching out ways to both understand the origins of autism, and how to relieve symptoms in children currently living with the disorder.
Published in the journal PLoS One, the study found that 5 to 13 year-old children with autism were significantly more social with adults and other kids when pets were incorporated into the environment.
This experiment, which used guinea pigs with the children, discovered that children with autism utilized better social behavior when pets were brought into their environment, rather than toys.
The children were more talkative and even looked into others’ eyes more– and other people were even more likely to engage with the children when pets were there. The children even smiled, giggled, and laughed more– while they whined, frowned, and cried less! This was a monumental difference seen between when guinea pigs were in the environment and when toys were the primary stimulant.
It’s been common understanding for some time now that pets have an effect on social situations, and that by simply being present they can serve as a social outlet for otherwise tense social circumstances. They can be a great conversation starter, too, the authors explained in their paper.
Animals help autistic children in other ways, too. Older studies linked having a pet in the home with more sympathetic autistic children and improved empathy with others.
The authors write that having an animal in therapy sessions or the classroom apart from the home could also relieve certain behavioral symptoms that autistic children emulate.
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