Autism and Pets: Research Highlights the Social Benefits

A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing gives inspiring evidence about the social benefits of interacting with pets for children with autism.

After surveying parents of children who had autism about their children’s interactions with dogs, researchers found that 94 percent of dog-owning families observed a strong bond between the dog and their child with autism. Additionally, even in families without dogs, 7 in 10 parents said their child enjoyed interacting with dogs when available.

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Similar studies involving children with autism found that those who had a family pet from a young age tended to have greater social skills. Research has also shown that social behaviors in children who have autism often temporarily improve after a short play period with a live animal as opposed to a toy.

According to researcher Dr. Gretchen Carlisle, “Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship.”

It’s important to recognize, however, that though animals can provide important social benefits, each child’s individual sensitivities and family dynamics must be carefully considered before families commit to pet ownership. Children who are sensitive to noise, for example, may have difficulty with very active dogs or dogs that tends to bark.

“Bringing a dog into any family is a big step,” Dr. Carlisle says, “but for families of children with autism, getting a dog should be a decision that’s taken very seriously.”

For more on dogs’ therapeutic capabilities, check out this video.

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