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Do Animals Perceive Human Developmental Disabilities? Guinea Pigs’ Behaviour with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Children with Typical Development. A Pilot Study

Abstract : Many professionals argue that animals in animal-assisted interventions are able to perceive people’s developmental disabilities and to adapt to them. To date, there is no scientific evidence in support of this hypothesis. Humans and animals use cues to modulate their interspecific interactions. However, the potential underlying mechanisms for these cues are unknown. Thus, we hypothesized that animals could perceive particular behaviours such as developmental disabilities present in children. To test this hypothesis, guinea pigs’ or GP behaviours were compared between two groups of children (N = 44, aged between 6 to 12 yo) with typical development (TD) and with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We evidenced that GP behaviours in the presence of children differed slightly when encountering ASD children versus TD children: more positive behaviours toward ASD children at the onset, and more feeding and resting in the presence of TD children toward the end of an interaction. One could explain this by GP curiosity toward ASD children behaviours (e.g., no marked behaviours such as attempts to touch), whereas GPs seemed calmer at the end with TD children (i.e., interacting with ASD children may be a little stressful). This partly gave support to our study’s hypothesis. GPs seemed to perceive developmental disabilities during a first encounter with children and to adjust their behaviours to that of children. We discuss the issues of animal training, animals’ well-being and acute stress, whether they are pets or used in animal-assisted interventions, and we propose perspectives that would help further our understanding.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - 11:20:38 AM
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Marine Grandgeorge, Elodie Dubois, Zarrin Alavi, Yannig Bourreau, Martine Hausberger. Do Animals Perceive Human Developmental Disabilities? Guinea Pigs’ Behaviour with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Children with Typical Development. A Pilot Study. Animals, MDPI, 2019, 9 (8), pp.522. ⟨10.3390/ani9080522⟩. ⟨hal-02268026⟩

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