A study at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine has found that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may benefit from interaction with dogs, as they provide unconditional love, support, and companionship.
The University of Missouri researchers studied dog ownership in families of children with Autism and found that parents supported the benefits of having dogs, as they provide companionship, contribute to stress relief, and provide opportunities to learn responsibility. Researcher Gretchen Carlisle stated, “Children with Autism spectrum disorders often struggle with interacting with others, which can make it difficult for them to form friendships. Children with Autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which provide nonjudgmental love”.
The study involved an interview of 70 families of children with Autism. Two-thirds of the parents in the study owned dogs, and of those parents, 94% reported that their child had a strong bond with their dog. Even in families without dogs, 70% stated that their children have felt enjoyment and relief by playing with and being around the animals.
”Dogs can help children with Autism by [creating a social connection]”, Carlisle stated. She continued, “For example, children with autism may find it difficult to interact with other neighborhood children. If the children with autism invite their peers to play with their dogs, then the dogs can serve as bridges that help the children with autism communicate with their peers.”
Although dogs may be a great option for Autistic children, parents should be very mindful of their child’s sensitivities when choosing a dog, to ensure a good connection between the child and pet. Getting a dog is a big decision for any family, but for a child with Autism, parents need to be very careful and selective in their decision process. For example, if a child is sensitive to loud noises, a dog that barks excessively would not be a good fit. If a child is sensitive to rough textures, a dog with a soft coat would be the best option. The researchers recommend that parents do not surprise the child with the dog, but have them involved in the selection process.
”This research adds scientific credibility to the benefits of human-animal interaction,” stated Rebecca Johnson, Director of ReCHAI. She continued, “This research helps us understand the role of companion animals in improving the lives of children with Autism.”
The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing other significant Autism research and current treatments for those affected by ASD. This is a conference you will not want to miss! Early Bird Ticket specials are going on now! To see the full list of speakers that will be presenting at the conference, and to select your tickets, please click here!