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Research Suggests Owning a Pet Beneficial to Autistic Children

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A new autism study conducted by researchers in France has found that having a pet can improve social skills in children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. The study found that children who were given a pet at about five years old saw the best improvements in social behavior. Compared to autistic children without a pet or those who have had a pet since birth, researchers discovered that autistic kids given pets at an early age exhibited improved behavior in social situations, including sharing with others and comforting others who are hurt or sad. 

The study was led by Marine Grandgeorge from the Autism Resource Center at Hospital Bohars in France. Researchers observed children between the ages of 6 and 16 that were attending a day-care center, looking specifically at 12 children that had a pet after the age of five compared to 12 children that did not have a pet. The children with pets were observed to share more with their parents and other children than the children without a pet. Researchers also noticed that the children with pets were more likely to comfort their peers.

Researchers believe the reasons behind the improved social behavior lie in the signals communicated between humans and pets. According to the study, "when a human and a pet are interacting, each partner uses signals emitted by the other to adjust their behavior."

The study was small, and the researchers are quick to point out that more studies are warranted to fully understand how pets can affect children with ASD and their development. The study can be found in the latest edition of PLoS ONE.

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