Raising a child with autism spectrum disorder is without a doubt a challenge. Parents try anything from therapy to classes and toys to help their child live better, fuller lives.
But there may be an area you haven’t explored yet: Animals! And we don’t mean strictly service or therapy animals. Even just a pet at home can do wonders for your child, whether it’s a dog, cat, rabbit, hamster, or other animals.
In fact, more and more research is showing the positive effects of children with autism having pets in their lives. Interested to know what they are? Let’s get started!
Here are some benefits to having your child interact with a pet.
Socializing is definitely one of the biggest challenges for children with autism. They often have difficulty interacting with their peers. It can be stressful and definitely lonely. But animals, such as a dog, can act as a bridge between children to help ease them into socializing. For example, if a friend comes over and is interested in the dog, they can ask questions about it. If your child is bonded with the pet, they are more likely to talk about them as well. Before you know it, a bond is formed. In general, if your child feels safe with their pet around, they are more likely to be open and comfortable around other people too.
Sadly, children with autism are prone to bullying and rejection from their peers. While socializing with their peers is still encouraged, a pet can really alleviate stress and loneliness by offering non-judgmental companionship for your child. That in itself is a great comfort. That’s why they’re called man’s best friend! Having your child take care and hang out with a pet can help build their confidence and improve their general well being. Not to mention that in our new normal, the lack of socialization is no longer a concern when there’s a pet in the house!
While you shouldn’t impose the total care of a pet on your child, you can have them assist in their care such as feeding and grooming. On top of teaching them about responsibility, brushing their dog or cat’s hair can be calming and soothing for your child. Feeding encourages them to be nurturing. Taking their pets out on a walk can also help your child be less nervous while outdoors and appreciate their surroundings better. These activities offer positive reinforcement as well as affection for the pet and a stronger bond between the two. Being around to supervise and help your child with these tasks can be a special bonding time for you both as well!
Therapy animals have been brought to schools to help children with learning disabilities have a better learning experience. It’s all about that non-judgmental way animals have again. In fact, one study had children read in front of an adult, a peer, and a dog and it found that they were more relaxed around the dog compared to humans. Isn’t that amazing?
When your child reads at home, have their pet be around for them to stroke or read to. This can help alleviate fears of reading in front of their class and also puts a positive spin on study time. It’s turning a difficult or boring activity into a pleasant and comforting one.
As we mentioned, a pet doesn’t strictly have to be a service or therapy animal to be a companion for your child and help improve their life. Adopting a dog or cat from your local shelter is free and can save a life! It also doesn’t have to be a dog. However, studies say that mammals offer greater benefits as pets for children with autism than reptiles. You can get a cat, a rabbit, a guinea pig, a goat, the list can be endless!
A pet can definitely help your child live a fuller, happier life. What parent wouldn’t want that for their kid? That being said, while there is growing evidence of animals helping children with autism, it’s still best to consider your child’s sensitivities on deciding which animal to get. For example, if your child is averse to sudden noises, a barking dog may not be the best choice. If you want to start small, hamsters, guinea pigs, even mice are great starting off points. If you can’t have pets at home, bring your child to petting zoos or a farm. They can also have a friend with a pet come over regularly for them to interact with.
Whatever you decide, we hope bringing an animal in your and your child’s life can help in their development and your peace of mind.