Children share a special bond with animals which is why bringing a pet into your home is never a bad idea. However, if you have an autistic child, you should tread carefully when introducing a new pet.
Autistic children socialize and communicate differently, which means that their reaction to a new pet may be different than what you have may have imagined.
This makes it essential to choose only the best pet for an autistic child based on the family dynamics, and the needs and sensitivities of the child.
Do Children with Autism Benefit from Pets?
Children with autism can benefit from pets in many ways. Multiple studies have been conducted regarding the variations in the social behavior of children with autism in the presence of animals. One study that compares the effects of animals and effects of toys on children with autism concludes that:
Children with ASD demonstrated more social approach behaviors (including talking, looking at faces, and making tactile contact) and received more social approaches from their peers in the presence of animals compared to toys. They also displayed more pro-social behaviors and positive affect (i.e., smiling and laughing) as well as less self-focused behaviors and negative affect (i.e., frowning, crying, and whining) in the presence of animals compared to toys. These results suggest that the presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with ASD.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584132/
Apart from improved social interaction, pets and animals can also teach compassion for others and help children with autism build strong, loving, and reliable relationships. Pets can also help reduce typical or separation anxiety to keep the child calm.
Plus, having to take care of a pet may also instill a sense of achievement in the child. All this translates into the overall increased quality of life for children with autism.
However, if you are considering getting a pet for your child with autism, make sure you choose the right pet. Not all pets are compatible companions for children with autism. This is why it essential to take the time to do a little research and choose only the best pet for your autistic child. Here are a few options that you can consider.
Dogs: Man’s Best Friend for a Reason
Dogs are charming, loving, and extremely loyal. But do they make a good pet for children with autism? Well, according to one study, around 67% of families with autistic children owned a dog. 94 % reported that the child with autism bonded with the dog. The statistics show that dogs are great pets for children with autism.
That said, it’s important to keep in mind that the sensory issues of the children will impact their relationship with the dog. It is advisable to opt for bigger dogs since they are generally more gentle and usually don’t bark as much as smaller dogs. It is also a good idea to adopt bigger pups instead of small ones.
Some breeds of dogs that make the best pets for autistic children include Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, and Labrador Retrievers. If you are looking for more than a companion dog, you can also consider choosing a service dog or a therapy dog for your autistic child based on their needs and sensitivities.
Cats: Gentle, Loving Companions
Cats are often considered to be aloof and detached. However, according to a study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, children with ASD value their relationship with their cats. Most parents with autistic children reported positive comments about cats like they calm the child and act as a soothing guardian.
However, keep in mind that some cats can show aggressive behavior, so you need to be careful while choosing the pet. The same study suggested that cats that are adopted as kittens are more affectionate and less aggressive towards autistic children.
Guinea Pigs: A Smart Choice
Guinea pigs can help autistic children in multiple ways, which is why they can be a great pet for autistic children. Research shows that the presence of guinea pigs can positively affect the quality and instances of social interaction in children.
One of the biggest reasons why guinea pigs may be one of the best pets for an autistic child lies in their docile disposition. They are cute, cuddly, and can easily become a stable part of a family with an autistic child.
These facts are backed by research. According to a study, “when asked whether they preferred reading, toys, or the guinea pigs, 81.8% of children with ASD indicated that they preferred the guinea pigs, followed by toys (12.1%), or both (6.1%).” The same study concluded that children with autism smile and laugh more when they are around guinea pigs as compared to when they are surrounded by toys.
It is important to understand that while guinea pigs may be gentler than cats and dogs, they are also more sensitive. They are cavies that live on the ground. Even a fall from a relatively short height can injure them fatally. Therefore, before you bring guinea pigs into your house, make sure that the child can handle them carefully.
As long as the guinea pig is handled gently and feels safe, it is unlikely to show aggressive behavior towards children with autism.
Do All Children React to Pets the Same Way?
While children with autism generally bond well with pets, unfortunately, there are no guarantees as there is no one best pet for autistic children.
According to Temple Grandin, an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University and autism spokesperson, “only about a third of people with autism are unusually good with animals, about a third are terrible with animals, and a third, are about average in how they get along with other species.”
So, there’s no need to worry even if your autistic child doesn’t bond with the pet you bring into the house. Remember to take it slow and move one step at a time when introducing a new pet as children with ASD are likely to warm up to the pet eventually. Also, keep in mind that regardless of the kind of pet you get, it is your responsibility to keep it safe and healthy. After all, it’s not just a pet but also a loyal and loving companion of your child!