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Animals Help Autistic Children


In early times, animals were domesticated to help herd cattle, kill mice, and complete housework. Today, pets are kept primarily as companions. Additional research has shown that there are therapeutic effects to having animals. When animals are present, children with Autism show more social behaviors toward other children.

Understanding Autism

Autism is characterized by a group of developmental disorders. It impairs social and communication skills. Typically by age three is when the first symptoms begin to appear. Approximately one in 91 children are affected by Autism in the U.S. today.

One of the biggest challenges for an Autistic child is socialization. In a classroom setting, they often struggle when it comes to engaging their peers. This can sometimes lead to isolation, bullying, and rejections. Additional stressful interactions can develop as well.

How Animals in the Classroom can Help Autistic Children

Research shows that when an Autistic child interacts with an animal it is helpful and has a calming effect. As the research was developed in comparison to animal interaction, playtime with toys and other tools were used to measure the Autistic children’s responses to their peers.

Children ages five to thirteen were also measured when interacting with adults during their free time. One group had toys to play with. The second group included two hamsters. The second group of Autistic children were more social. Their talking, smiling, viewing faces, physical contact, and laughter with others was more interactive. These children also displayed minimal negative behaviors of crying, whining, frowning, or other negative behaviors than the Autistic children who were just given toys to play with.

For Autistic children, the classroom setting can be an environment that is overwhelming and stressful. This is primarily due to peer victimization and social challenges. By placing animals in the classroom, the stress can be reduced as the perception of the classroom and its occupants is changed. Autistic children may then feel as though they can be more open to social interactions and use appropriate behaviors.

The Bond between Humans and Animals

For centuries mankind has bonded with animals. Many people who have pets, cling to them as closely as they do their human families. The pet becomes a part of the framework of the entire family.

As far back as the 18th century, animals have been used in a therapeutic manner. Even though the research shows that animals are proven to reduce stress, there are times when an animal can go above and beyond affection to be an assistance to their owners.

For 20 years there have been programs established to train dogs to be service animals for the disabled and Autistic children. Labrador and Golden retrievers are used in a variety of settings to assist their owners. Service dogs can be very helpful as an aid for parents when they have to take the Autistic child away from the home. Some children with Autistic have severe separation anxiety. With the service dog in place, the child can hang on to the dog, thus making running errands and taking trips an easier venture.

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