Proponents of humane education have long been aware of the positive impact of teaching empathy and consideration for a pet and the impact on the social behavior of a child.
Marguerite E O’Haire has transferred this concept into Autism research and compared how 5-13 year old children with ASD interacted with adults and typically-developing peers in the presence of two guinea pigs compared to toys.
It was found that in the presence of pets, children with ASD demonstrated more social behaviors like talking, looking at faces and making physical contact. Children were also more receptive to social interaction and advances from their peers in the presence of the animals than they were when playing with toys. The presence of animals also increased instances of smiling and laughing, and reduced frowning, whining and crying behaviors in children with ASD more than having toys did.
The research points to the fact that animal specific intervention may have a therapeutic benefit in classrooms and may help foster interactions with therapists, teachers or other adult figures and reduce stress associated with an autistic child’s perception of a classroom and its occupants.