If you want to welcome a pet or companion animal into your home for your child with autism, read on to learn how a pet can be an excellent addition to the family.
How Can A Companion Animal Benefit A Child On The Autism Spectrum?
Though children with autism may enjoy being left alone to play with their toys, research shows that interacting with an animal companion can significantly help build their social skills. A pet suitable for your child’s needs can be an incredibly beneficial addition to their life in a number of ways:
- A suitable pet can be good company for your child and help prevent loneliness. Some children with autism may experience difficulty forming friendships or socializing with their peers, which is why the non-judgmental nature and unconditional love a pet can offer can be perfect.
- Caring for a pet can increase a child’s social behavior and communication skills. Not only is it possible for a child to learn about kindness and gentleness as they interact with their pet, but studies have shown that children with impaired communication skills speak more frequently when playing with their pets. Children who are nonverbal are also able to discover new ways to interact and bond with their animal companions.
- Pets can also offer sensory support and reduce a child’s stress or anxiety, and teach children responsibility.
What Are Good Potential Pets For Children With ASD?
If you’re considering a pet as a companion animal for your child with autism, it’s important to find a good match based on your child’s needs. Here are some factors to take into consideration:
- Dogs can provide invaluable companionship and can help your child build social skills and confidence. It is worth noting that dogs require a significant time commitment and can be expensive to care for. Some children with ASD may find dogs unpredictable and intimidating. Highly-active breeds can potentially trigger sensory overload.
- Cats can be a quiet and soothing presence for children with sensory issues. It is worth noting that cats can also be expensive to care for, and some cats may potentially show aggression toward children with autism.
- Rabbits can be a safe, non-threatening choice compared to dogs and cats. A rabbit can be very soothing to observe and pet for children. It is important to note that rabbits are social creatures and would benefit from living with other rabbits.
- Guinea pigs are a gentle and low-maintenance option. Research has shown that children with ASD can become more joyful and sociable when interacting with a guinea pig. This can develop into better social skills. Guinea pigs also have a fairly long lifespan of up to 7 years with proper care.
What Pets Are Not Practical Options For Children With Autism?
While fish, reptiles, and birds also make very popular pets, they may not be the best companions for a child with autism, as they cannot provide interactions that can help children build better social skills. While hamsters are small and easier to care for than cats and dogs, they would not be a good choice of pet for children with ASD, as hamsters move quickly and can get upset and aggressive when disturbed.
How Can A Pet Aid The Families Of Children with Autism?
Though further research is being conducted, studies show that families of children with autism can often benefit from a dog or a cat. It is believed that improvement in a child’s social skills and self-esteem from pet companionship is a factor in greatly reducing parental stress regarding a child’s development. Should you be interested in having an animal companion join your family, it is best to consult with experts for your child’s specific needs and considerations.
When it comes to mental health concerns in children with autism, early intervention is crucial. The earlier a child with ASD is diagnosed and receives proper treatment and support, the sooner a child has the tools to identify and communicate and cope with their emotions. With more than 20 years of providing support and training for families, Solstice Behavioral Health and Consulting in Shelton, Connecticut strives to become a bedrock for autism awareness and education. Solstice has created multiple programs and activities to help children and communities enhance their skills and develop their support networks. Contact our office at 203-900-4720 to see how we can help you and your family move forward together.