Study: Pets may improve social skills for children with autism

Credits: File photo/Tom Braid/Edmonton Sun/QMI Agency

Children with autism who live with pets have stronger social skills than those who don’t, a new University of Missouri study suggests.

Although the therapeutic benefits of dogs has been the focus of much attention, the researchers say other pets – such as cats and rabbits – can have a similar positive effect.

“Children with any kind of pet in the home reported being more likely to engage in behaviours such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people’s questions,” researcher Gretchen Carlisle said. “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.”

Pets often serve as “social lubricants,” Carlisle said.

“Kids with autism don’t always readily engage with others, 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.”

The research surveyed 70 families with autistic children between eight and 18 years old. Almost 70% of the families had dogs and about half the families had cats. Other pets included fish, farm animals, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, a bird and a spider.

Some parents assume dogs are the best pets to help their children with autism, Carlisle said, but that might not be the right fit for everyone.

“My data show greater social skills for children with autism who live in homes with any type of pet,” she said.

The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.


From Sun News Network, Dec. 31, 2014.

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