Dogs-apart from being man's best friend-have a special role to play in the lives of children with special needs.
A new study by the Universite de Montreal has suggested that specifically trained service dogs can help reduce the anxiety and enhance the socialization skills of children with Autism Syndrome Disorders (ASDs).
"Our findings showed that the dogs had a clear impact on the children's stress hormone levels," said Sonia Lupien of the University of Montreal.
To detect stress-levels, Lupien and colleagues measured the amount of cortisol present in the saliva of autistic children.
Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the body in response to stress.
It peaks half-hour after waking up, known as the cortisol awakening response (CAR) and decreases throughout the day.
The researchers measured the CAR of 42 children with ASD.
"CAR is a very useful marker of stress. We used it to determine the effect of service dogs on the children's stress levels by measuring it in three experimental conditions; prior to and during the introduction of a service dog to the family, and after the dog was removed," said Lupien.
Throughout the experiment, parents were asked to complete a questionnaire addressing the behaviours of their children before, during and after the introduction of the dog.
On average, parents counted 33 problematic behaviours prior to living with the dog, and only 25 while living with the animal.
The findings were published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.