Companion animals have long been regarded as valuable for enhancing a person’s well-being. A new study shows that pet care-taking can have a positive effect on autistic children, improving their behavior and self-esteem.
They offer to share and offer comfort
The authors of the study, published online in the open access journal PLOS ONE, found that autistic children who received a pet scored higher in two test categories. The first category was “offering to share” and the second “offering comfort”. The test was administered both before the pet arrived and a few years after the pet had joined the family home. Scores were higher in those two categories during the second testing.
Remarkably, for those children who had grown up with a pet, the new pet made no difference in their scoring. They did not improve after the introduction of the new pet.
Improves prosocial behavior
Children with autism of suffer with prosocial behaviors. Empathy is one of those emotions which has a sympathetic response. Many autistic children do not exercise empathy and do not, therefore, show the response for caring and understanding the emotion of people around them.
A grateful pet provides reward, encourages empathy
It is unknown what caused the improved scores for the autistic children. It may be that the pet, when new to the environment, is entirely dependent and cannot communicate its needs. The child must therefore focus and project the pet’s needs in order to care for it. The nonjudgmental affection from a pet, freely given from a grateful animal, could also have a positive effect on these children.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, PLOS ONE
Photo by John Nyboer