Social connection and social empathy is one of the core deficits that is seen in children with an autism spectrum disorder. This empathy, or lack of understanding of the other, which is known as theory of mind, we see in children having difficulty with picking up on social cues and recognizing facial expressions for example. When they do or when they are able to understand it, it's not a lack of feeling that is there. They do have a tendency to take care of, but it's harder for them to pick on what the nuance is. What is interesting is there is recent research not just with pet therapy, where kids get more involved in caring when they have a pet dog or cat in their home, but also the use of Oxytocin, which is a hormone that is produced during breastfeeding with this experience of falling in love.
Oxytocin was used with boys with Asperger’s, which is a kind of high functioning autism or where you have your speech and language and your I.Q. intact but difficulty with social connectedness or social empathy. And the use of Oxytocin in this small group of children actually increased their capacity to feel empathy, to feel warmth, to actually connect more with their peers. This is a small study but there is more research being done with the use of Oxytocin, because Oxytocin is released to increase empathy and caring and warmth. It is being studied with kids with Asperger’s, as well as with autism, and this is exciting research which I think holds promise.