Autistic Children Can Benefit From Owning A Pet Dog
April 15, 2014

Researchers Find Pet Dogs Could Benefit Some Autistic Children

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Autistic children could benefit from interacting with dogs, which could provide the youngsters with unconditional love, companionship, stress relief and opportunities to learn responsibility, according to research published in a recent edition of the Journal of Pediatric Nursing.

“Children with autism spectrum disorders often struggle with interacting with others, which can make it difficult for them to form friendships,” explained Gretchen Carlisle, a research fellow at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction.

“Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship to the children,” she added. “Dogs can help children with autism by acting as a social lubricant. For example, children with autism may find it difficult to interact with other neighborhood children… dogs can serve as bridges that help the children with autism communicate with their peers.”

Carlisle and her colleagues interviewed 70 parents whose children had autism spectrum disorder, and found that nearly two-thirds of those families owned canines. Of those dog owners, 94 percent said that their children had bonded with their pets, and even 70 percent of non-dog owners said that their kids were fond of dogs.

Many of the dog-owning parents said that they had specifically selected dogs as their family pets because of the perceived positive impact that they could have on autistic children. The researchers said that parents with autistic kids should consider their children’s sensitivities carefully when trying to find a good match for the pet-youngster relationship. She also recommended involving the children in the process.

“Bringing a dog into any family is a big step, but for families of children with autism, getting a dog should be a decision that’s taken very seriously,” Carlisle said. “If a child with autism is sensitive to loud noises, choosing a dog that is likely to bark will not provide the best match for the child and the family. If the child has touch sensitivities, perhaps a dog with a softer coat, such as a poodle, would be better than a dog with a wiry or rough coat.”

“Many children with autism know the qualities they want in a dog. If parents could involve their kids in choosing dogs for their families, it may be more likely the children will have positive experiences with the animals when they are brought home,” she noted.

However, Carlisle added that there is no one-size-fits-all type of pet that is best for every autistic child. “Dogs may be best for some families, although other pets such as cats, horses or rabbits might be better suited to other children with autism and their particular sensitivities and interests,” she concluded.