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Animal Support & Neurodivergence

We are so thrilled that a goat family was placed with a young boy in Iowa. Our sweet Dolly & Laney with their wether's could not be more perfect. They are fun, can be pranksters, but are super sweet, especially with kids. It was our dream when we started with goats that we could match goats with those in need, particularly children with Neurodivergence.

Over the years we've had goats loaned out to families with children that have special needs but this was our first family placement with a young boy in northern Iowa struggling with his Autism to communicate, interact, and learn. He has been drawn to goats during petting zoo visits and we were thrilled to connect his family with a herd of their own!

A goat can provide companionship, friendship, reduce loneliness and alleviate anxiety. It can be easier for a person with neurodivergence (term for when someone's brain processes, learns, and/or behaves differently from what is considered "typical") to interact with a goat because a goat is nonverbal and non-judgmental. A study by Whyte et al. (2016) examined this possibility providing neurobiological evidence that children with neuerodivergence, may perceive greater social reward from animal faces, compared to human faces, as indicated by greater activation in the amygdala and putamen.

"The treatment dates back to a time when psychologists theorized that autistic people could not readily interpret social cues because their empathy was too low, owing to defects in their brains. Today there is a challenge to that assumption: They may have *too much* empathy, and so social interactions are too loud and frightening, causing them to withdraw.

Formerly considered a problem or abnormal, scientists now understand that neurodivergence can have many benefits. It is not a disability but a difference in how the brain works. With this shift, practitioners are no longer treating neurodivergence as an illness. Instead, they are viewing them as different methods of learning and processing information and interactions in which animals are providing great clues.

"Autistic kids and adults tend to do very well in socializing with cats, dogs, horses, etc. Interacting with animals brings out more advanced socialization skills, which they can then use, to some extent, with other humans. It appears that they perceive less social threat from animals, from whom unconditional love towards kindly humans is typical. If autistic people instead have low empathy, this result ought to be very unlikely.

For instance, animals such as dogs represent a multisensory stimulus, have simpler movements that are easier to interpret and may possess a higher level of behavioral and structural neoteny emerging from selective breeding and these factors may also operate for several other domesticated animal species." - The Atlantic, 2016

While no research exists specifically regarding goats and autistic people, we have watched first hand the results with social functioning benefits of goat companionship for children with Neurodivergence, with the presence of goats (as well as our other animals) leading to increased social skills, positive affect, and positive social behaviors along with lower levels of negative affect and social anxiety. and are thrilled to break down stigmas and capacity for animals to elicit greater social motivation and lesser social anxiety ... Incorporation of animals may lead to an enhanced visual attention and preference to the context and activities involved, and thereby potentially lead to an overall enhancement in social attention.


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