Children with autism benefit from dog ownership

girl with dog

Many children yearn for a dog. It’s a tough decision for many families, but for families with autism, it can be an especially tricky decision. New research shows that families with children who have autism report many benefits from dog ownership including companionship, stress relief and opportunities to learn responsibility.

Dogs are nonjudgmental

“Children with autism spectrum disorders often struggle with interacting with others, which can make it difficult for them to form friendships,” noted Gretchen Carlisle, research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. “Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship to the children.”

Over 90% of parents responding to the study said their autistic children bonded with their pets. Even in families without dogs, 70% of parents said their children liked dogs. Many of the respondents said they specifically chose a dog for a pet because of the perceived benefits to their children on the spectrum.

Dogs can form a social bridge to other relationships

“Dogs can help children with autism by acting as a social lubricant,” Carlisle explained. “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 the dogs can serve as bridges that help the children with autism communicate with their peers.”

Be careful choosing a breed

Not just any dog will do. If the child has other sensitivities to noise or rough textures, be sure to pick a breed which accommodates the preferences of the child. “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,” said Carlisle.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, University of Missouri-Columbia

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