London: Playing with furry pets could help autistic children over five years improve their social skills, according to a new study. Researchers found youngsters with the developmental disorder were better able to both offer comfort and share things if they had a 'furry friend', while those who never had a pet showed no improvements, the 'Daily Mail' reported.
The study conducted in two parts by Hospital Research Centre of Brest in France noted that this effect was not seen in autistic youngsters who had pets in their family from birth.
Researchers said this could be because a pet brought in later could have novelty value, while strengthening family bonds by increasing their interaction with each other.
The study analysed 24 autistic children with an average age of 11 who attended a daycare in France. A dozen had received a dog, cat or rabbit after turning five while the rest had never had a pet. The children's parents had completed a survey commonly used to diagnose autism when the children were five, and filled it in again at the time of the study.
The results revealed that the children with pets were better able to share food or toys with their parents or other children and also improved in comforting other children in distress.
However, no such improvement was seen in a second study that compared eight children who had pets in the family from birth and eight who had no pets.
Previous researchers found pets enhance skills in children with typical development, including improving self-esteem and empathy.
The findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.