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Health Beat: Learning to socialize with autism

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Aug 15 2014 01:25:27 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 15 2014 04:49:24 PM CDT

For most kids, playing on the playground is a great place to have fun and one of the best ways to learn how to interact with other kids. For the one in 68 kids with autism, however, playgrounds can cause stress. Autism can hinder a child's ability to socialize. Now, research is showing how we can change that.

Some kids are going undercover in the name of science.

"We're trying to like play with the kids and have fun like it's a normal day," said Calvin Hawes, an eight-year-old researcher.

Blythe Corbett, a psychiatry professor at Vanderbilt University, is leading the study and looking at how children with autism spectrum disorder play and interact with typically developing kids.

"So we can better understand what things help them to interact, but also what things are getting in the way of being able to play with others," Corbett said.

To test this, researchers took saliva samples from kids with ASD, like Ben Solsvig, to measure the stress hormone cortisol.

"We wouldn't be able to tell from a lot of our kids, how stressed they really are when they are interacting with others," said Corbett.

Higher cortisol means Ben's less motivated to play with other kids.

"It depends on how fun they are. I wouldn't want to play with a kid if he's all boring," said Ben, who has autism.

"The good news is though, that all it takes is a simple invitation for a peer to invite them, to ask them to play, and that can significantly improve their willingness to engage with others," Corbett said.

A simple invitation could make all the difference for a child.

Corbett said the study highlights the importance of bringing typically developing peers together with kids with autism spectrum disorder in all social settings. Kids with ASD are then able to learn that it's safe to interact with others.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

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