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How Pets Help Children with Autism

Autism is a mental condition associated with difficulty socializing and communicating clearly. Studies have shown that for a child with autism, having a pet improves social skills and assertiveness, along with the many other health benefits pets can offer for our health.

1. Social Benefits

  • Conversation Starters. For kids with autism, it can be a challenge to find ways to engage in conversation or relate to others in general. Studies have shown, however, that if a child has a pet they are more likely to interact in a social setting than a child without a pet. The topic of pets can be a natural conversation starter at – or away from – home. For instance, if a visitor asks an autistic child about their pet, the child might find it easier to respond because the topic is one that they are comfortable with. On the other hand, simply having a pet present in surroundings improves social skills – whether it is at home, a friend’s house, or a classroom.
  • Reduces Loneliness. Quite frankly, “a dog is a man’s best friend” is pretty spot-on with how most people relate to their pets. In addition to regular relationships with other people, having a loving, furry, and quiet friend to lick or meow when you are down goes a long way for animal-lovers. Autistic kids find pets as a constant friend whom they don’t have to struggle to communicate or socialize with.
  • Increases Self-Esteem. It’s not a myth – research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that, in general, people who own pets have stronger self-esteem than people who do not. Pets give us social support and can enhance our extroversion and social skills.

2. Health Benefits

The other benefits pets provide are to all types of people – not just those with autism. They include:

  • An Increase in Activity. Taking your dog to the park or playing “catch the mouse” with your cat –keeps you away from the status of “couch potato.”
  • Protects You from Allergies. It’s a common belief that growing up with a dog or cat would make you more susceptible to animal allergies later in life. Recent studies have shown that those theories are Actually, the new perspective is just the opposite – having a furry animal in your house early in life will protect you from allergies or asthma in the future.
  • Lowers Stress and Stabilizes Blood Pressure. You may have heard of some colleges having “dog therapy” during finals week – where students get to interact, cuddle, and play with dogs and puppies for a nice break. The point of this therapy is to reduce stress. Likewise, having a dog, cat, or other furry or loving creature at home will help reduce blood pressure and manage stress.
  • Reduces Negativity. Much like talking to a friend or family member after a stressful or unfavorable experience, being comforted by a pet has an overall positive effect on our attitude. Plus, who doesn’t like a cute little fuzzball?

3. Choosing a Pet

As we’ve mentioned, pets are very beneficial – especially for kids with autism. However, if you are thinking about getting a pet to help your autistic child, there are a few important things to consider:

Pets Help Children with Autism

Photo by UCI UC Irvine / CC BY-NC-ND

  • The Needs of Your Child. Before you buy a pet hoping that it will be helpful to your autistic child, think about the characteristics the pet would need to have to be compatible. Is your child afraid of loud noises or easily agitated? Take these types of things into consideration when looking for a pet.
  • The Type of Pet. Studies have shown that all types of pets are beneficial, but the pets with the most impact are dogs – specifically small dogs. Dogs show support and unconditional love for their owners that is unique.

Who knew pets could be so helpful in such interesting ways? The advantages that pets have on people’s lives – including people with autism – are incredible when compared to the lives of those without pets. If you are considering adopting a pet, think about our points above. Especially if you or your child have autism, adopting a pet could highly benefit you in the future.

How does your pet help improve your life?






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