How pets can help kids with autism
Dogs are considered man’s best friend and for children with autism, a dog might be their best friend and also play a crucial role in their social development.
Researchers at the University of Missouri found that when children with autism had a dog in their home they had greater social skills compared to those who did not. Additionally, children with any type of pet were more likely to introduce themselves to others, ask for information and respond to the questions of others.
“These kinds of social skills typically are difficult for kids with autism, but this study showed children’s assertiveness was greater if they lived with a pet,” said Meghan Carlisle, a research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.
Additionally, Carlisle explains that when children with disabilities take their service dogs out in public, other kids stop and engage. This is something kids with autism don’t always readily do, 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.
Researchers also found that the longer a family had owned a dog the stronger the effect was on the child and the children were more attached to smaller dogs.
“I have personally seen the benefits of our Animal Assisted Therapy Program with our patients who have autism,” said Mary Burke-Dawson, a speech pathologist and Animal Assisted Therapy Coordinator at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “However I am respectful of the animal’s needs and safety. Therefore I inform parents about researching the process of finding an appropriate dog for their child’s needs.”
Burke-Dawson recommends following up with reputable breeders, veterinarian and dog trainers. She emphasizes that in order to achieve the benefits of a pet in the home or with Animal Assisted Therapy there needs to be an appropriate fit between what the child and family need as well as what the dog needs.
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