Fido may help autistic kids boost social skills
Dogs make great pets, particularly for families. Not only are dogs great additions to any family, recent research reveals they may be very beneficial for families with autistic children.
A study published in March in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing found that the benefits of dog ownership for families with autistic kids are many. For one, parents reported that dogs gave the kids the opportunity to learn companionship, offered stress relief and helped them learn responsibility.
Social interaction can be difficult for children with autism spectrum disorders, which means forming friendships is not easy for them, explained study author Gretchen Carlisle in a statement. “Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship to the children,” added Carlisle, a research fellow at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbia, Mo.
Participants in Carlisle’s study included 70 parents of children with autism. Of the nearly two-thirds of parents interviewed who owned dogs, 94 percent said their autistic child bonded with their dogs. In fact, these same parents said they made the decision to get a dog because of the perceived benefits to their children. In families with no dogs, 70 percent reported that their autistic child like dogs.
Carlisle explained that dogs can help ease autistic children into group social interactions. “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,” she said.
Although the dog can be beneficial, Carlisle pointed out that it’s important for parents to consider their children’s sensitivities when selecting a dog to ensure it’s a good match. For example, if a child is sensitive to loud noises, a dog that doesn’t bark as much would be appropriate, and a child with touch sensitivities would be better suited to a dog with a softer coat, said Carlisle.
She also recommended that parents get their autistic children involved in the process of buying a dog and added that the children will be more likely to have positive experiences with the dog once it’s brought home.
As the study reflects, dogs can be ideal pets for families affected by autism, however, they may not be appropriate 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,” said Carlisle.
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