According to a recent article published in Developmental Psychobiology, guinea pigs are animals that help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder display more interactive social behaviors and become less anxious.
In previous research that had been done, the results were taken from parental or teacher surveys. However, this study is different because it looked at the level of arousal from three different children (one autistic child and two typical developing children). Each child wore a wristband that measured the electric charge that races through skin.
The typically developing children reported being happy and had high levels of arousal. Researchers believe this is because children are excited by the idea of animals and playing with them. Children with autism also reported feeling happy but their level of arousal had declined. This could suggest that the animals lowered their level of stress and anxiety.
This research could be used as a type of intervention for teachers without many resources. Geraldine Dawson, the director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, says that it may be easier for children with autism to interact when there is a third object rather than a face-to-face interaction.
Another study, carried out by Marguerite E. O’Haire from Purdue University, gave groups of three children with varying abilities two guinea pigs to play with. The study found that there was improved sociability for all children. The children had the opportunity to feed, pet, photograph, groom, draw the animals, and clean their cages. After the eight-week test period, typical and children on the spectrum described the guinea pig as their best friend.
Deborah Fein, an autism expert at University of Connecticut, says that when you lower a child’s anxiety level, they pick up social skills incidentally. Along with that, the guinea pigs can be used to teach children with autism empathy and responsibility.
Check out the original article at New York Times Blog.
By Sejal Sheth