Helping the Autistic Relate to Others
People with autism spectrum disorders often have trouble relating to other people, but studies show that animals, whether real or virtual, might be able to help. Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist who herself has autism, has written about how the rhythmic balancing required when riding on horseback can help children with autism be more receptive to learning language. Grandin also says service dogs can help people with autism feel safer and better navigate social situations.
Other researchers have shown how caring for a “virtual” pet can teach autistic children empathy, and numerous studies have found evidence that bonding with a pet can help some people on the autism spectrum become more aware of social surroundings. There’s one catch: These therapies only work in people who aren’t scared of the animals. For instance, Grandin has pointed out that dog barks are painful and frightening to some autistic people if they’re particularly sensitive to sound.