Pets help Autistic Children Develop Social Skills
Dogs may not only be man's best friend, they may also have a special role in the lives of children with special needs. A small study published online on Aug 1 PLoS One claims that, "Individuals with autism show a drastic improvement in prosocial behaviours if they have a pet to play with after they turn five."
Researchers noted that, Autism children who had a pet after they turned five showed progress in two prosocial behaviour, 'Offering to share' and 'Offering to comfort', when compared to kids who never had a pet.
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The developmental disorder Autism shows first signs when the child is three years old. It affects the brain's development of social and communication skills. It hinders the prosocial behaviour in both adults and kids battling with autism as they find it difficult to interact with others as well as nonverbal communication. People with autism find it difficult to distinguish, comprehend and express feelings and intentions.
This exclusive study was conducted by Marine Grandgeorge of the Hospital Research Center of Brest in France who is the lead author. In order to proceed with the finding they researchers assessed two categories, "offering to share" and "offering comfort." Grandgeorge believes both categories represent the prosocial behaviors, proposing that individuals living with autism may be able to develop such behaviors through appropriate experiences.
The researchers concentrated on children living in three different arrangements. One who never owned a pet, one who owned a pet since birth, or received a pet after the age of five. Parents were made o answer to questionnaire that discussed on the presence of pets at home. The information from the questionnaires was collected between 2006 and 2007.
Initially they analysed 24 autistic children with an average age of 11 who were attended a daycare in France. A dozen had received a dog, cat or rabbit after turning five while the rest had never had a pet.
During the study the researchers learnt that Autism is at its peak when the kid is between the age four and five and hence it the most critical period to evaluate a child's behaviour.
The resulted showed that children who received a pet showed increased levels of interaction between family members. They is a tendency that the kids might spend more time with family and more time sharing the attention of the pet. Children also scored higher when it came to "offering to share" and "offering comfort."
"Pets are supposed to enhance different skills in children with typical development, such as self-esteem, socio-emotional development, and empathy," Grandgeorge and colleagues wrote. "According to several authors, children with typical development seem to learn prosocial behaviors through their interactions with pets (e.g. sharing with and stroking the pet)."
This is the first study showing an association between pet arrival and changes in prosocial behaviors.