Animals Help Children With Autism Show Increased Positive Social Behaviors

Research published February 2013 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Marguerite E O’Haire and colleagues from the University of Queensland, Australia indicates that the existence of an animals in the presence of these children can significantly increase positive social behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The authors found that these children were also more sympathetic to social advances from their peers in the presence of the animals than they were when playing with toys. They compared how 5-13 year old children with ASD interacted with adults and typically-developing peers in the company of two guinea pigs compared to toys. The presence of animals also improved  smiling and laughing, and reduced frowning, whining and crying behaviors in children with ASD more than having toys did.

Earlier studies have shown that people are more likely to receive overtures of friendship from strangers when walking a dog than when walking alone, and similar effects have been observed for people holding smaller animals like rabbits or turtles. The authors suggest that this ‘social lubricant’ effect of animals on human social interactions can be particularly important for individuals with socio-emotional disabilities.

The authors believe that the potential of an animal to help children with ASD bond to adults may help advance interactions with therapists, teachers or other adult figures. They also found that animal-assisted intervention may have applications in the classroom as well, saying “For children with ASD, the school classroom can be a stressful and overwhelming environment due to social challenges and peer victimization. If an animal can reduce this stress or artificially change children’s perception of the classroom and its occupants, then a child with ASD may feel more at ease and open to social approach behaviors.”

Individuals with autism in the news(Part 2)

Jessica-Jane Applegate with her gold medal in S14 200m Freestyle after the 2012 Summer Paralympics

Successful autistic people can offer great encouragement for those on the spectrum as well as their families. Although autism can restrain one’s ability to function normally, there are quite a few who are able to accomplish enormous things in life with the proper support and direction.

There are successful autistics everywhere, and the spectrum contains a large range of abilities and strengths. High functioning autism can obstruct an individual’s capability to cooperate with others properly and sensory problems are a regular matter throughout the spectrum.

Tim Ellis is an Australian performer, author and lecturer in the world of magic and illusion. Ellis began performing magic at the age of 9 after his grandfather gave him a magic set as a gift. At the age of 14 he was the youngest magician ever admitted to The Magic Circle of Victoria and two years later won four out of their five annual awards. In 1980 he won the title ‘Best Under 18 Magician of Australia’.In 1986 he created and produced ‘National Magic Week’, a ten day festival of the magical arts which was presented annually for the next nine years. In 1992 he bought Australia’s oldest magic shop, ‘Bernard’s which he owned for several years.

Ellis sat on the jury at the FISM World Championship of Magic in 2003 at Den Haag, in 2006 at Stockholm, and 2009 in Beijing.  In 2004 Ellis and Webster produced three magic teaching DVDs, and together with a team of Melbourne magicians they set a new Guinness World Record for the world’s longest magic show by performing non-stop for 75 hours at Luna Park, Melbourne, Australia. The previous record was 24 hours. In the same year Ellis produced the 29th Australian Convention of Magicians. In 2007 Ellis was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Ari Ne’eman is an American autism rights activist who cofounded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network in 2006. On December 16, 2009 President Barack Obama announced that Ari Ne’eman would be appointed to the National Council on Disability. After an anonymous hold was lifted, Ne’eman was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate to serve on the Council on June 22, 2010. He currently chairs the Council’s Policy & Program Evaluation Committee. Ne’eman has a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, making him the first person with an autistic spectrum disorder to serve on the council.

Ari Ne’eman believes that autism is a neurological difference and not a disease that should be cured. He is against what he sees as the stigmatization of autism in the media and views autism self-advocacy as a civil rights issue. In addition to being on the NCD, Ne’eman is a public member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee and a board member of TASH. He previously was Vice Chair of the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force, and served on the New Jersey Special Education Review Committee

Jessica-Jane Applegate is a British Paralympic swimmer. Applegate competes in S14 events mainly freestyle and backstroke preferring shorter distances. She qualified for the 2012 Summer Paralympics and on  September2,  in the S14 200m freestyle, Applegate won the gold setting a Paralympic record. She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2013 New Year Honors for services to swimming. Applegate was born in Great Yarmouth in 1996. Applegate, who has Asperger’s syndrome, began swimming at a young age after her mother took her to Lowestoft and Oulton Broad Swimming Club. Applegate qualified for the final in first place with a time of 2:14.31. She then improved on this again in the final, coming from behind in the final length to win the gold medal and set a time of 2:12.63, a Paralympic record.

Autism Assistance Dogs

Not many children are fortunate enough to have a companion as devoted as Axle is to his friend Jordan, and for a child with an autism spectrum disorder this type of unconditional friendship can be especially meaningful.  

Axle is one of Australia’s first autism assistance dogs, and he and Jordan are rarely spotted doing anything separately. Continue reading