Animal Friends Soothe Autistic Children

Relief for Stressful Social Situations




According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) now affects about 1 in every 68 children in the U.S., up from 1 in 150 in 2000. This includes 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls. Contact with animals may help ameliorate this troubling trend. A recent study of 114 children between 5 and 12 years old has found that autistic children having greater contact with animals have less anxiety related to social situations.

The research was led by Marguerite O’Haire, Ph.D., from the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at the College of Veterinary Medicine of Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana. Colleagues from the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia, also participated in the study.

The researchers divided the 114 children into 38 groups of three. Each group had one ASD child and two children without ASD. Skin conductance, which provides an objective way for researchers to gauge social anxiety, was measured among the children as they read silently and aloud. As expected, skin conductance was significantly higher among the ASD children as they read aloud in front of their peers. In successive sessions, when researchers introduced pet guinea pigs for the children to pet prior to their readings, the ASD children’s skin conductance levels dropped significantly.

“Previous studies suggest that in the presence of companion animals, children with autism spectrum disorders function better socially,” says James Griffin, Ph.D., of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. “This study provides physiological evidence that the proximity of animals eases the stress that children with autism may experience in social situations.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Expanded Space, Staff and Services at RVA Physical Therapy & Sports Rehab

Neepa Patel, BPT, DN, has joined RVA Physical Therapy & Sports Rehab’s team.

The Market at 25th Opens in Church Hill

The Market at 25th has opened at 25th Street and Fairmount Avenue, bringing new options for fresh, healthy food into a traditionally underserved area.

Wellness is Rooted in Community

Charlotte Christensen, MS, founder of RootedRVA, believes that true health starts with living soil and confidence in the kitchen.

Free Chiropractic Care for Veterans and Active-Duty Service Members

Veterans and active-duty service members can apply for up to three months of complimentary chiropractic care at Aligned Chiropractic.

More Help for Chronic Pain Sufferers

Nimbus is now also one of the few clinics in Richmond offering oncology massage, which is modified to be safe and supportive for those in treatment for or remission from cancer.

Add your comment: