Why Pets Benefit Children With Autism
A pet provides companionship, alleviates anxiety, and encourages physical activity. For example, a study done by the University of York linked having a pet to maintaining an overall happier life with reduced loneliness. Research has shown that pets reduce stress and increase mental health for individuals in a variety of ways, but how does this relate to people, and more specifically children, with autism?
1. Companionship: Children with autism often characterize difficulty in forming connections and interacting with others. Because of this, many children with autism face social isolation as well as loneliness. So, how do pets change this? A study was done by the University of Missouri on families with both dogs, and children with autism spectrum disorder. 94% of the parents said that their children were bonded to their dog. Most pets are also quiet and soft which is are very appealing traits to a person with sensory challenges. A dog or cat is much less likely to cause stress and anxiety compared to any human companion. When a pet and a child become bonded, it alleviates lonely feelings and provides friendship.
2. Forming Social Interaction: Because pets are non-verbal and have an accepting nature, the more time a child spends with their pet, the more they will feel comfortable with all kinds of interactions. They learn to be social without the fear of rejection. Not only do pets teach how to interact, but they also become a “social lubricant” says Carlisle, who led the University of Missouri study. Carlisle also said, “For example, children with autism may find it difficult to interact with other neighborhood children. If the children with autism invite their peers to play with their dogs, then the dogs can serve as bridges that help the children with autism communicate with their peers”. Pets are extremely useful in helping a child with autism form social interaction.
3. Developing Responsibility: Another great benefit of pets for children with autism is the responsibility they teach. Having a pet shows a child how to be considerate of the needs of another living being. By caring for the animal, they develop empathy and become more responsible. They also teach routine and organization, both very important skills for a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
4. How to Connect to the Right Pet: There are many different options available for a child with ASD looking for a pet. The most common are dogs or cats, but pets like guinea pigs, rabbits, horses, and more can be equally as effective. One of the most helpful approaches is to connect to a therapy animal. Therapy animals are typically trained dogs selected for their temperament that can provide comfort and support in a variety of ways. Many healthcare facilities have programs specifically for this purpose. One can talk to their doctor to get a referral or visit the Assistance Dogs Website to find an agency. Depending on the needs of the child, one can also simply visit a local shelter and find an animal accordingly.
5. Disclaimer : Although for the most part, pets are great for children with ASD, this does not mean it is always the best fit. Depending on the child themselves, time or money constraints, and space available, a pet may not work for a family. It is always important to take all factors into consideration.
Consider a Pet for Your Child
Barring these factors, if able, parents should definitely consider a pet for children with ASD. Even if a family can not own a pet, any exposure to animals can be helpful. From a simple friendship to developing important life skills, there is no end to the benefits a pet can provide.