Children with autism often have difficulty initiating and maintaining interactions with other children, and among aids to improve their social skills has been found to be the company of a pet, which has showed very positive and also promising results.
Various studies on the effects of pets on autistic children have shown very positive results, highlighting an improvement in their social skills in general and a decrease in their physiological activation in social contexts, as well as a decrease in social interactions with other children.
In this article we will see in more detail what these effects are at all levels: social, psychological and physical.
Social anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
In general, children with ASD often have difficulty interacting socially and communicating with other people due to a number of impairments in the perception of verbal and non-verbal signals from others, to approach other people, to respond to certain social contexts, as well as to maintain eye contact.
All of this can make it difficult for children with ASD to initiate and / or maintain social interactions with other children.
However, there are now enough studies that have shown that these children can progress in the development of social skills allowing them to initiate and maintain social interactions with sufficient success, among which pet support. That’s why here are a few studies that have shown the effects of pets on autistic children, which have shown some pretty positive results, as well as some promising results.
The Beneficial Effects of Pets on Autistic Children
Several studies that have investigated the effects of pets on autistic children have found the following benefits in general.
1. Social benefits
There are many studies that have shown that the mere presence of a pet is directly related to improving social skills in children with autism. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the effects of pets on children with autism.
One of the effects of pets on children with autism is that the mere presence of an animal has been shown to help reduce the physiological effects produced by social anxiety, similar results in nurotypical children with social anxiety.
Another benefit of having a pet in children with autism is the help it gives them to improve their social skills, so that they are more likely to initiate and maintain social interactions, as it has. It has also been shown that there is a decrease in negative interactions with other children.
Having a pet in the classroom that has children with ASD also demonstrates the effects of pets on children with autism, as it makes it easier to maintain social interactions with other classmates, helping them to have less time. ‘social inhibition, so they are more likely to be the initiator of the interactions, as well as having less social anxiety and therefore less negative social interactions.
2. Psychological benefits
Among the psychological benefits of having a pet, people with autism have found the following:
- As is known, it improves their social interactions and thus helps to increase their self-esteem.
- It promotes the development of their autonomy, their responsibility and their sense of usefulness.
- It stimulates your language, your attention and your memory.
- You can reduce or prevent anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
- It can help control impulses and can lower your levels of hyperactivity and aggression.
- The company of an animal can facilitate its predisposition to attend and collaborate in sessions with the psychologist.
- It can also help maintain motivation to achieve treatment goals.
3. Physical benefits
Beyond the psychologicalThe following benefits of having a physical pet have also been found in people with autism:
- It encourages an increase in the physical activity of the child.
- As a result of the exercise, they improve their motor skills, balance and coordination.
- Having a pet in the house reduces stress levels and thus lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
Studies on the Effects of Pets on Children with Autism and Children with Social Anxiety
Several studies have been carried out on the effects of pets on autistic children, as well as on children who also suffer from social anxiety, obtaining very positive results in each of them thanks to the presence of an animal next to them. of them.
Of course also It is important to consult a specialist before giving a pet to a childbecause there are many social animal programs for children and adults, as well as some that focus on people with autism.
1. Effects of having a dog at home as a pet in children with autism
A study in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) showed some of the effects of pets on children with autism, noting that having an animal in the home helped significantly reduce physiological stress.
A sample of 42 autistic children ranging in age from 3 to 14 years old was used to conduct the study. they were given a dog that they had to live with for a while. At 4 weeks, significantly lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels were observed compared to those at 2 weeks, with an even greater difference from the levels they had at the start of the experiment.
Therefore, this study showed that a pet may help reduce physiological stress levels in children with autism.
In order to perform this study, the levels of continuous physiological activation in children with ASD were directly examined in social settings with the presence of the dog and also without making a comparison. Levels of physiological activation were assessed by skin conductance, as it is one of the most studied physiological activation signals and has proven to be a robust and effective test for its performance.
2. Effects of having a guinea pig as a classroom pet in children with autism
A more recent study of 192 children aged 5 to 12, including 64 children with ASD, sought to see their developmental improvement in social situations with a guinea pig as a class pet. Factors investigated in these children throughout the study were: social anxiety, social skills deficit, social isolation, physiological activation, and negative interactions with peers. The results showed that children with ASD generally improved their social skills after 8 weeks with the guinea pig as a pet in class.
3. Effects of the Presence of Pets on Autistic Children When Playing with Other Children
Another study was carried out on 99 children (including 33 with ASD) in which an observation of their behavior was carried out by performing various tasks: playing with toys then playing freely in the presence of animals. The results clearly showed that children with ASD were more participatory and had fewer negative interactions with other dummies when animals were present.
This study showed that the presence of an animal helps children with ASD by making them be less socially isolated, have fewer negative interactions with their peers, and overall improve their development in social situations.
4. Effects the presence of pets on social situations in children with social anxiety
There are other studies that have shown that the mere presence of an animal changes the perception of neurotypical people with social anxiety issues when faced with a social situation, causing them to perceive in a less stressful way and ask them to face it with it. more optimism. While it is true that the company of other trusted people is very beneficial, the presence of a pet, in some cases, has been considered to be it has greater effects on stress reduction in social contextss.
In 2012, an experiment was carried out with 47 neurotypical children aged 7 to 11, who presented with anxiety in the face of social situations. These children were to make a short speech in the presence of a group of unknown adults, modifying certain aspects of the context (for example, having only adults, having a toy in hand, and being accompanied by an animal).
The result was that when there was an animal present in the company of the children who were to speak in public, these they showed lower anxiety levels than if they were just adults or had a toy, the results may be due to children’s perception of not being judged by animals and seeing unconditional support, while people may be seen as a source of social judgment.