Pets May Help Autistic Kids Socialize

By Amir Khan on August 2, 2012 10:59 AM EDT

dog
Having a pet may help autistic children learn to socialize better, but only if the pet is brought into the home when the child is approximately 5 years old, according to a new study, published in the journal PLoS ONE (Photo: Creative Commons)

Having a pet may help autistic children learn to socialize better, but only if the pet is brought into the home when the child is approximately 5 years old, according to a new study, published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Researchers found that autistic children who get a pet when they are 5 years old or older showed improvements in their ability to empathize and share with others, whereas children who had a pet from birth did not show the same improvement.

"In individuals with autism, pet arrival in the family setting may bring about changes in specific aspects of their socio-emotional development," the researchers wrote in the study.

Like Us on Facebook

The study was small; researchers only looked at 260 autistic children. However, they found that children who got a pet after the age of 5 were more apt to share food and toys as well as offer comfort to their family and friends -- two markers commonly used in autism tests.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time that a study has demonstrated that the adoption of a pet is linked to social improvements for individuals with autism," Marine Grandgeorge, study author and researcher with France's Hopital de Bohars, told WebMD.

Autism is a development disorder characterized by impaired social and communication skills. Autistic children often have poor social skills, a delay in learning to talk, limited interests in activities and engage in repetitive behaviors, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Autism is typically diagnosed around 3 years of age, but symptoms can be seen as early as 16-months-old. Early intervention consists of therapy to help children walk, talk and interact with others before an official diagnosis is made.

Autism rates have skyrocketed since 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2002, 1-in-156 children were diagnosed with autism. In 2008, 1-in-88 children were diagnosed, an increase of 78 percent.

The cause of autism is not known, but having a sibling with autism raises the risk. In addition, scientists think there is a genetic factor to the condition.

Just because pets appear to help doesn't mean parents should rush out and get a dog, Alycia Halladay director of environmental research for the advocacy group Autism Speaks, told WebMD.

"We certainly don't want families who are already stressed to get the idea that they need to add a pet to their family if that pet is not really wanted," she said

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Join the Conversation

Sponsored From Around the Web

    ZergNet
Follow iScience Times
us on facebook RSS
 
us on google
 
Most Popular
INSIDE iScience Times
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet  Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)