I’m sure one of the questions that many parents of children with autism may have thought of in the past is whether or not having a family pet is appropriate given their child’s special situation. It may be a question of suitability or maybe even whether it may help with your child’s communication.
A new study in looking into this area has found that living with dogs, cats or other pets may actually help children with autism acquire social skills. The study’s findings have shown greater engagement among those with animals in the home.
“In a survey of 70 families with children on the spectrum ages 8 to 18, researchers found that those with a pet displayed more prosocial behaviors. Children with any kind of pet in the home reported being more likely to engage in behaviors such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people’s questions,” said Gretchen Carlisle of the University of Missouri who worked on the study published recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.”
The researchers have state that animals may serve as a social catalyst for children with autism, prompting kids to interact more than they might otherwise.
“Kids with autism don’t always readily engage with others, but if there’s a pet in the home that the child is bonded with and a visitor starts asking about the pet, the child may be more likely to respond,” Carlisle said.”
The study has shown further findings that children’s social skills continued to increase the longer families owned a pet. Another interesting finding was that children reported the strongest attachments to smaller dogs however parents indicated that their kids had deep bonds with other pets including cats and rabbits. Of all the families included in the study, 57 had a pets with most being dogs or cats, however the research also included families with fish, farm animals, rabbits, reptiles, a bird and a spider.
“Dogs are good for some kids with autism but might not be the best option for every child,” Carlisle said. “Kids with autism are highly individual and unique, so some other animals may provide just as much benefit as dogs.”