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Social rivalry triggers visual attention in children with autism spectrum disorders during sessions of animal-assisted intervention

Abstract : Here, a procedure based on “model-rival” social learning concept was developed as a potential tool for triggering recipients’ visual attention during animal-assisted interventions (AAI). We studied mechanisms underlying recipient-service dog interactions, based on social attention is so crucial that individuals can intervene in dyadic interactions to draw attention, and attention is an intrinsic part of social functioning and social skills’ development. To perform these studies, 29 ASD children, 3 trainers in dyad with one of service dogs (3 Labrador, 6 Golden, 8♂, 1♀; mean age: 23.8±0.5 months) were involved. Visual and physical behaviours were recorded using ethological methods. Study 1: 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 (n=20, 18♂, 2♀, 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 (F=15.44, p<0.001), suggesting a heightened awareness towards their environment. They oriented more towards the trainer and the dog, contrarily to the control group. Study 2: The repetition of the procedure during three weeks with 9 other children (8♂, 1♀, mean age: 13.7±2.3yo) was even associated with increased joint attention with the trainer (Wilcoxon tests, p<0.05). Both studies yielded similar results. Educator’s attention changes induced ASD children to intervene in the interspecific dyad to draw attention by using both visual and physical behaviours. Their visual attention increased significantly and continued to do so across sessions (e.g more gazes and joint attention towards the educator when educator and service dog were close). This was clearly due to the experimental procedure; none of these changes were observed when educator’s attention was oriented towards ASD child. ASD children improved their communication skills in the presence of the educator-service dog dyad. This experimental attentional change suggests that social competition for attention is a possible mechanism involved in awarding the benefits observed in AAI.
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Submitted on : Thursday, November 22, 2018 - 5:32:01 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, May 12, 2021 - 11:14:02 AM


  • HAL Id : hal-01931424, version 1


Marine Grandgeorge, Yentl Gautier, Pauline Brugaillères, Inès Tiercelin, Carole Jacq, et al.. Social rivalry triggers visual attention in children with autism spectrum disorders during sessions of animal-assisted intervention. 27th International Conference "Animals in Our Lives: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Human–Animal Interactions", International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ); University of Sydney, Jul 2018, Sydney, Australia. ⟨hal-01931424⟩



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