The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative released new research showing how pets can help children with autism, after new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show one in 50 US children has autism spectrum disorder. HABRI's research found that social behaviors increase in children with autism in the presence of animals compared to toys.
R esearchers examined the interactions of children with autism along with an adult and peers in the presence of two guinea pigs compared to toys. The study involved 99 children from 15 classrooms and four schools. Each group of three students was filmed and observed during three 10-minute free-play sessions with toys and three 10-minute sessions with the guinea pigs.
Participants demonstrated more social behaviors, including talking, looking at faces and making tactile contact in the presence of animals compared to toys. Participants also displayed more positive prosocial behaviors, such as smiling and laughing and less self-focused behaviors and negative affects including frowning, crying and whining while in the presence of animals compared to toys.