Pets are known to play a great role in molding an individual’s social life. Previous researchers have cited the importance and have highlighted that pets can act as a unique catalyst in boosting an individual’s social interaction.
Interestingly, a greater level of media attention has been focused on dogs as pets, showing that this is helpful in increasing the social abilities of autistic children.
However, researchers from the University of Missouri have recently discovered that autistic children benefit from living with any pet, not just dogs.
Gretchen Carlisle, a fellow at the Research Centre for Human-Animal Interaction, says, “When we ran a quick comparison of autistic children who lived with dogs in comparison to those who did not, the ones with a pet fared better on their social-skills scale.”
More importantly, the obtained data had an interesting result. Children living with any pet showed greater levels of engagement, such as being able to introduce themselves to others, and responding or asking questions.”
Typically, these social skills are difficult for autistic kids to master. However, the study reveals otherwise for autistic children living with pets.
Carlisle added that pets often socially lubricate their masters. When children go to a classroom or participate in a social gathering with a pet, they tend to be better engaged.
Carlisle further said these effects seem to apply towards autistic children and could be easily responsible for children being increasingly assertive.
Carlisle says, “When disabled children take their service dogs out for a walk, more often than not, their friends stop and children gleefully build an engaged conversation.”
“Autistic children do not readily engage at all times. However, if there is a pet along with the child and when the visitor starts enquiring more about the pet, chances of the child being able to respond are higher.”
It was also found that the longer the ownership of the pet, the better the outcome of the child’s social behavior.
Interestingly, when older children were interviewed and asked to rate their relationships with their dogs, they signalled otherwise. However, younger children reportedly showcased stronger relationships with their pets.
Carlisle says, “Autistic children are seen to enjoy a stronger bond with smaller dogs and parents report stronger attachments between their children and other pets such as cats or rabbits. This points towards the evidence that having a pet could benefit young children diagnosed with autism to greater levels.”
70 families with children diagnosed with autism were surveyed. The surveyed children were aged between 8 and 18.
It should also be noted that the majority of the families had dogs as their pets and the others had cats.
The remaining families had farm animals, fish, rabbits, rodents and spiders as their pets.
Carlisle says, “It is no doubt dogs are a good option. However, it might not be the best option and every child with autism is unique and so are their needs.”
Carlisle adds, “Autistic kids are unique and highly individual. Although many parents consider dogs as being a better option, the statistics and data available after the study show results vary.”