The Focus Study on Autistic Children

Thirty eight autistic children and seventy six children without autism participated in a study to gauge their levels of anxiety during social situations. The children were fitted with a wrist band that was able to detect rising anxiety levels in children. The researchers were especially interested in periods of time when the children were having to interact with other people.
All of the children had to read a book silently to themselves. Then they were asked to read the book aloud to two or more of the other children. Then they were asked to participate in group play for a period of ten minutes. After they accomplished all of these tasks, the children were allowed to pet and play with Guinea pigs for a period of ten minutes.
The researchers specifically chose the Guinea pig because these animals are small, and they are normally very calm and gentle.

Study Purpose

The main goal of the study was to determine methods of helping autistic children to cope during social situations, so they could improve their social skills. Interaction with other people is one of the hardest things on children who suffer from autism.

The Study Results

When the autistic children were engaged in the reading, either to themselves, or to the other children, and when they were taking part in the group play activity, they demonstrated high levels of anxiety. When the autistic children were allowed to pet the Guinea pigs their anxiety levels dropped significantly in the ten minute period.
An agency news release made by the NICHID’s Child Development and Behavioral Branch stated that the study concluded that being in close proximity to animals could significantly reduce the amount of stress that autistic children feel when they are placed in social situations.
This is not the first study to be done on the effect that animals might have on the stress levels of autistic children, but it is the first study that can show proof that the anxiety levels of the children were greatly affected by their contact with the animals.

What the Animals do for the Kids

Animals are completely accepting. When a child is with an animal, they feel no pressure to act a certain way, or look a certain way. The animals simply accept you as you are with no expectations, and when these children are given the opportunity to be around something that has no expectations of them they can just relax and be themselves.
The parents of autistic children know that their children are capable of more than the rest of the world sees them do, but this knowledge can cause parents to push their child beyond their limits. The animals allow the child to do what they are comfortable doing.

What this means for the future

The people who work with autistic children will be able to take this information and develop programs that include animals, so they can help these children learn to communicate, and interact better with other people. The entire focus of this experiment was to learn more about how to help autistic children to develop the social skills they need in order to function in society.