Therapy room at Lighthouse Autism Center with toys on a table with blue chairs and book shelves above

Clinical Corner Fall 2015

Animals and Kids with Autism – The Unique
Relationship That Can Develop Between the Two

Published by Indy’s Child
By Maggie Loiselle

Helping kids with autism improve their social interaction can be a constant challenge. Being around their peers can produce higher physiological stress levels than those in typically developing children. Researchers have long known that interacting with animals has a positive effect on those with autism, helping to lower their stress levels and develop better social skills. Recently, a Purdue University study tracked the physiological stress in two groups of children as they read silently, read aloud to peers, played with toys, and then played with guinea pigs. The study found higher stress levels in the kids with autism – except when they played with the animals. According to the study, children with autism showed an increase in social interaction when they had a positive source to interact with, such as an animal. The study stressed that not every child responds to animals in a positive way. But, for those who do, the results are encouraging. Depending on the child and the family situation, adopting a pet can be beneficial. So can taking the child to a zoo or to a friend who owns a pet. An additional study is now underway to determine whether an animal’s species affects how children with autism respond.

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