Harlan Still & Koch

Survey suggests pets can help kids with autism socialize

A few weeks back, we addressed one challenge that parents of children on the autism spectrum: creating a home environment that allows them to stay calm and focused on their education. As parents of children with autism know, another common challenge is social development. Many such children struggle to interact with others, and may become socially isolated without help.

Researchers are always looking for new ways to facilitate social development for children on the spectrum. A newly published survey from the University of Missouri suggests that pets can be a big help.

The survey was of 70 families that included a child aged 8 to 18 on the autism spectrum. Fifty-seven families surveyed had some kind of pet at home, mostly cats and dogs. Other animals mentioned included fish, reptiles, rabbits and farm animals.

The longer the child lived with a pet, the more their social skills improved, the study says. It appears that the pet gives others a way to break the ice with the child.

The type of animal does not seem to matter much. One of the people who worked on the study said that dogs are a good choice of pet for some autistic children, but others may not get along with a dog. As with all children, kids on the spectrum have a wide range of personalities, so finding the right pet for the child requires a parent’s knowledge.

Acquiring and caring for a new pet can be relatively inexpensive, but many necessary medical treatments and therapies for disabled children cost a lot of money. Parents struggling to afford those costs may qualify for Supplemental Security Income.

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