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29/06/2016, 09:00

Pets help children with autism be more communicative

Children with autism are known to be withdrawn and often avoid situations wherein they have to come into contact with people they are not very familiar with. Their social skills are not very developed and when they are not taught to interact with others, they prefer to be alone.

A research produced by the Missouri-Columbia University has found a way to help children with autism improve their social skills. Researchers have found that when there are pets living at home, children with autism become, in their way, more communicative and assertive.

According to Gretchen Carlisle of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReChai) at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, pets often have a positive effect on people when they are in a social setting or classroom. They serve as a kind of "social lubricant" that eases conversations and allows those present to interact. Children in homes and classrooms with pets have been noted to talk more to each other, and to ask questions. The same is the case with children with autism -- when there are pets with them, they become more engaging and less prone to withdraw.

In her research " The Social Skills and Attachment to Dogs of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder" (Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-014-2267-7), Carlisle monitored 70 families who had children with autism. The children were between the ages of eight and 15 and all of them were patients at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. It was established that almost 70 percent of the families surveyed owned dogs, and half of the families owned cats. Other families and even many of the families who already had cats and dogs also kept other animals such as fish, rabbits, reptiles and in one case, a spider.

In her research, Carlisle established that the use of therapy pets and animals has long been done in the cases of children and adults with autism, and this has been successful for the most part, On the whole, keeping pets come with many psychological benefits such as boosting self-esteem, strengthening social relationships, and improving a person's coping mechanisms.

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