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When animal reveals hidden skills of children with autism spectrum disorders

Abstract : During numerous decades, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been characterized by their altered skills, especially social interactions and communication. But, some recent data suggest that these children may have not the opportunity to express all their abilities in such lab researches. We assume that animal may reveal hidden skills of children with ASD. Indeed, visual social attention is central to social functioning and learning and may act as a reinforcer. Social rivalry, which occurs when an individual is excluded from dyadic interactions, can promote interspecific learning by triggering attention. We applied these concepts to an animal-assisted intervention where the behaviour of ASD children was compared between an experimental (attention shift of the animal trainer from the dog-child to the dog only) and a control (attention maintained on the dyad) groups (study 1, n=20 children with ASD, mean age: 7.6±1.6yo). The results show that ASD children are sensitive to the direction of (visual) social attention and may act, physically and visually, in order to regain it. When the animal trainer concentrated on the dog, the overall visual attention of the ASD children increased, suggesting a heightened awareness towards their environment. They oriented more towards the animal trainer and the dog, contrarily to the control group. The repetition of the procedure was even associated with increased joint attention with the animal trainer (study 2, n=9 children with ASD, mean age: 13.7±2.3yo). Thus, ASD children do care about and seek human visual attention. They show an ability to adapt their social behaviour, which questions whether their known deficits in social competencies are hard wired or whether the deficits are in their expression. This experimental attentional change suggests that social competition for attention is a possible mechanism involved in awarding the benefits observed in animal assisted interventions.
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Contributor : Umr6552 Ethos <>
Submitted on : Monday, August 21, 2017 - 11:09:07 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, May 12, 2021 - 11:14:01 AM


  • HAL Id : hal-01575577, version 1


Marine Grandgeorge, Yentl Gautier, Pauline Brugaillères, Inès Tiercelin, Carole Jacq, et al.. When animal reveals hidden skills of children with autism spectrum disorders. Behaviour 2017 - 35th International Ethological Conference, Jul 2017, Estoril, Portugal. ⟨hal-01575577⟩



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