Researchers have found that a family pet can lead to strong bonds and reduced stress for both children with autism and their parents. According to the study, parents of children with autism report higher levels of stress on average than parents of typically developing kids.
"Some kids with autism have specific sensitivities, so a big, loud dog that is highly active might cause sensory overload for a particular child, while a quiet cat may be a better fit," said study researcher Gretchen Carlisle from the University of Missouri in the US. "My goal is to provide parents with evidence-based information so they can make informed choices for their families," Carlisle added.
Surveyed more than 700 families
For the results, the research team surveyed more than 700 families from the 'Interactive Autism Network' on the benefits and burdens of having a dog or cat in the family.
They found that despite the responsibility of pet care, both children with autism and their parents reported strong bonds with their pets. Pet ownership was not related to parent stress, and parents with multiple pets reported more benefits.
Challenges of children with autism
"Given that the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder are so broad, it can be difficult to identify interventions that are widely beneficial," Carlisle said. Some of the core challenges that children with autism face include anxiety and difficulty communicating.
"As pets can help increase social interaction and decrease anxiety, we found that they are not only helpful in providing comfort and support to children with autism, but to their parents as well," she said. For parents considering adding a pet into their family, Carlisle recommends including the child in the decision and making sure the pet's activity level is a good match with the child's.