“Children with autism spectrum disorders often struggle with interacting with others, which can make it difficult for them to form friendships,” said Gretchen Carlisle, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in the University of Missouri 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.”
For the study, 70 parents of children with autism were interviewed. Nearly two-thirds of the families owned dogs, and of those, 94 percent of the parents reported their children with autism had a bond with their dogs.
“Even in families without dogs, 70 percent of parents said their autistic children liked dogs. Many families with dogs reported that they made the decision to get a dog because of the perceived benefits to their children with autism,” Carlisle said.
“Dogs can help children with autism by acting as a social lubricant,” Carlisle said. “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.”
“Families with an autistic child need to consider their child’s sensitivities carefully when choosing a dog in order to ensure a good match between pet and child,” Carlisle said.
“Bringing a dog into any family is a big step, but for families of children with autism, getting a dog should be a decision that’s taken very seriously,” Carlisle said.
“If a child with autism is sensitive to loud noises, choosing a dog that is likely to bark will not provide the best match for the child and the family. If the child has touch sensitivities, perhaps a dog with a softer coat, such as a poodle, would be better than a dog with a wiry or rough coat, such as a terrier.”
Carlisle believes that parents should involve their children with autism in the dog-buying process.
“Many children with autism know the qualities they want in a dog,” Carlisle said. “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.”
The study only looked at dog ownership among families affected by autism, but Carlisle said that other types of pets could be a good option as well.
“If you know one child with autism, you know one child with autism,” Carlisle said. “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.”
The study was recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing.
Source: University of Missouri, Columbia