Along the time, animals have proven to be helpful to patients suffering from a wide range of illnesses. According to the findings of a recent study, animals are extremely useful in the treatment of children who suffer from autism.
The study was conducted by the Center for the Human-Animal Bond that is part of Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and it has studied the effects that the presence of animals might have on autism patients.
The study was performed on 114 children, who were assigned into 38 groups, each containing 3 children of which one had been diagnosed with autism and two were declared healthy.
The healthy children served as both witness groups, but also as part of the scenario created for the autistic children as part of the experiment.
The children in each group were assigned to do different activities for 10 minutes, while they wore a band on their wrists that measured the conductivity of their skin. This band was meant to tell when the subjects were experiencing strong emotions like anxiety, anger and fear, but also excitement.
The wristband could tell when the subject was experiencing strong emotions because the electric inter-neuronal activity is much stronger when a person is going through this, as compared to when he is calm.
And so, the children were asked to read quietly from a book, then to read aloud, then they were provided with toys with which they were allowed to play freely, and lastly, two Guinea pigs were brought by specialized personnel who supervised the interaction between the animals and the children.
All of these activities lasted 10 minutes each and the measurements from the children’s wristbands were collected for each of groups. After close interpretation, the study relays that the children with autism displayed much higher skin conductivity than the healthy children did all throughout the reading activities and the play time.
This is explained by the anxiety that autism patients experience during normal social instances. However, throughout the time that they spent with the Guinea pigs, their skin conductivity lowered considerably, suggesting that they were much calmer.
“Our study was conducted in a supervised setting, by researchers experienced in working with kids with autism spectrum disorders who understand the needs and requirements of the animals,” said Dr. Marguerite O’Haire, PhD, the lead author of the study.
She explained that there is great promise from the implication of animals in the treatment of autistic patients, and the in the future several methods will be developed that will greatly contribute to the improvement of these patients’ condition.
However, Dr. O’Haire strongly discourages that autistic children be provided with full-time pets, as she points out that the interaction between them and the animals needs to be supervised by medical professionals. Otherwise, it can prove ineffective and even dangerous for both the patient and the animal.
The study was published in the scientific journal Developmental Psychobiology and its findings will greatly contribute to animal involvement in the treatment of children who suffer from autism. Dr. O’Haire explains the great success of their relationship by the fact that animals do not judge the people they come into contact with, thus offering “unqualified acceptance”.
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