Study: Social Behaviors Increase in Children with Autism in the Presence of Animals Compared to Toys

We grew up with pets all around us and by we, I’m referring to my sister and I. We had the typical dogs, cats, birds and fish. It was wonderful because they offered a therapeutic quality to our lifestyle. They were fuzzy, silly, and fun to have growing up. It gave us a sense of responsibility, self-esteem, and it taught us how to care for others.

According to WebMD a number of studies have suggested that kids growing up in a home with “furred animals” – whether it’s a pet cat or dog, or on a farm will have less risk of allergies and asthma. James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology said,

    “Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system.”

In another study titled: Social Behaviors Increase in Children with Autism in the Presence of Animals Compared to Toys; children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) demonstrated warmth and affection towards animals, but not towards humans. These pets have a biochemical impact on these children that profoundly improved their social behaviors.

Animals are very healing creatures. They offer children and adults the capacity to heal emotionally, physically, and mentally. I remember many incidences where my Yorkshire Terrier (Loki) was my little love connection when my husband (boyfriend at the time) was away. Loki was my little companion.

Here’s the study abstract:


Previous research has demonstrated the capacity of animal presence to stimulate social interaction among humans. The purpose of this study was to examine the interactions of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with an adult and their typically-developing peers in the presence of animals (two guinea pigs) compared to toys.


Ninety-nine children from 15 classrooms in 4 schools met the inclusion criteria and participated in groups of three (1 child with ASD and 2 typically-developing peers). Each group was video-recorded during three 10-minute, free-play sessions with toys and three 10-minute, free-play sessions with two guinea pigs. Two blinded observers coded the behavior of children with ASD and their peers. To account for the nested study design, data were analyzed using hierarchical generalized linear modeling.


Participants with ASD demonstrated more social approach behaviors (including talking, looking at faces, and making tactile contact) and received more social approaches from their peers in the presence of animals compared to toys. They also displayed more prosocial behaviors and positive affect (i.e., smiling and laughing) as well as less self-focused behaviors and negative affect (i.e., frowning, crying, and whining) in the presence of animals compared to toys.


These results suggest that the presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with ASD.

Citation: O’Haire ME, McKenzie SJ, Beck AM, Slaughter V (2013) Social Behaviors Increase in Children with Autism in the Presence of Animals Compared to Toys. PLoS ONE 8(2): e57010. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057010

I do believe in this study and the fact that pets are important for a persons mental, physical and social state of mind. It is very satisfying and healing. I can attest to that!

Other resources:
Natural news