How animals play a role in helping children with Autism
By Sarah Johnson.
A child with autism faces challenges everyday that may cause life to be uneasy. Just like many of us, when we have a difficult day we want to come home to something comforting. For some that comfort may be a warm meal or just a relaxing shower. However, studies have shown that for children with autism owning a pet can cause major social benefits and act as their comfort piece when they get home.
Since children with autism commonly struggle with lack of social interaction they often feel isolated. If the child interacts with a pet, they can eliminate their feelings of isolation. Research shows that the sense of achievement a child feels when they have successfully cared for a pet develops their sense of self. Since a child with Autism struggles in self-identification, pairing the child with a pet will help develop their identification. Additionally, attachment to pets can promote healthy social development, social competence, increased social interaction, improved social communication, and social play in children. As mentioned, these children commonly are faced with feelings of isolation. Pet ownership gives children with Autism a chance to improve social interaction and social development. Additionally, the interactions with the pet could make all feelings of isolation go away completely. All of these reasons are why owning a pet is helping children with autism or special needs children.
Any pet ownership has research to back positive impacts on children with Autism. Specifically, the ownership of a service dog has shown major benefits for children with autism. One study measured the physiological impact on children with autism by measuring levels of cortisol, a primary stress hormone. The study examined cortisol levels of the children while the service dog was present and while the service dog was gone. The results showed that while the service dog was out of the house the cortisol levels of the child rose, in comparison to when the dog was home. This study can conclude that the presence of a service dog decreased the stress of a child with Autism.
Many parents may be worried about the pet and child interaction before reading this article on how beneficial pet ownership can be. It’s important to trust that children are caring and loving, the same way pets are. Pairing the two makes perfect sense. With an incline of pets up for adoption, now is the perfect time to integrate an animal into your household. Whether you get the pet to improve social interaction, decrease stress, or simply have an extra cutie running around the house- it’s bound to be beneficial.
1. Viau R, Arsenault-Lapierre G, Fecteau S, Champagne N, Walker CD, Lupien S. Effect of service dogs on salivary cortisol secretion in autistic children. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Sep;35(8):1187-93. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.02.004. Epub 2010 Mar 1. PMID: 20189722.
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