Pets and Children With Autism

We have approached the subject of the possible health benefits that stem from owning a pet on several blog posts before, particularly the story of Iris and her cat Thula, and how the cat had helped the child overcome some aspects of her autism.

Further to this and according to researchers, it seems that owning a pet can dramatically improve the level of social interaction in autistic children.

A recent survey of 70 families, all with children with autism between the ages of 8 and 18, showed that the children with dogs had greater social skills than the ones without.

Gretchen Carlisle, one of the researchers at  the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, explains that it is not even restricted to dogs, as children with any kind of pet in the home were reported to be more likely to engage in behaviours such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people’s questions.

Mrs Carlisle explains that “When children with disabilities take their service dogs out in public, other kids stop and engage. When pets are present in social settings or a classroom, children talk and engage more with one another. 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.”

The children were all patients at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Almost 70 percent of the families that participated had dogs, and about half of the families had cats.

Other pets owned by participants included fish, farm animals, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, a bird and even one spider!

We agree that recent studies have been pushing the boundaries of what we know can be strong health benefits from owning a pet, but if even spiders are now potentially beneficial to our health (although anyone with a phobia and a garden will agree that it may still not be enough to redeem those eight-legged unwanted guests!), then there is no telling what researchers will find tomorrow!

Joking aside, the love one gets from a pet can now also be quantified in terms of how much good they do to our health as well.

In other words, pets rock!

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