Benefits of Having a Dog for an Autistic Child
There are different types of autism and different autism therapies for each type. While traditional occupational therapy can help a great deal, looking into alternative therapies may also be helpful. One of our favorites is getting a pet. If you have an autistic child and are thinking about getting one, you should know that dogs help calm children down, give them company, and teach them responsibility. Specialists at the University of Missouri have investigated the different benefits of having a dog for an autistic child.
A study about how dogs influence autistic children
Gretchen Carlisle, researcher at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri, says: “Children with autism spectrum disorders usually have problems interacting with others, which can make it difficult to make friends. Children with autism may benefit especially from the interaction with dogs, which provide them with unconditional love without judgment and give the child company.”
For this study, Carlisle talked to more than 70 parents of autistic children and asked them a series of questions. More than half of the parents had a dog, and almost all of them said there was a bond that the child felt with the pet. In the families without a dog, 70% of parents said that their children would like one.
Even with all of the benefits of having a dog for an autistic child, deciding to get a family pet is not an easy decision. Carlisle thinks that parents need to think about their child’s sensitivity when choosing a dog, as to not end up with an over-energetic dog that will overwhelm the child. “Bringing a dog into any home is a big deal, but for families with autistic children, getting a dog shouldn’t be taken lightly. If the autistic child is sensitive to loud noises, a loud dog who barks a lot will not provide the best option for the child or the family. If the child is sensitive to touch, a dog with soft fur may be better, like a poodle, rather than a dog with wirey or rough fur like a terrier”.
In addition, the expert suggests that the child be a part of the selection process, as most children know what they want their pet to be like. Bringing a dog home will also be a much more positive experience if the children were able to choose it personally. In spite of everything you do, sometimes dogs aren’t the appropriate pet for autistic children. “Dogs may be better for some families, while other pets like cats, horses, or rabbits may be better for other autistic children with different sensitivities and particular interests.” Carlisle says.
Benefits of Having a Dog for an Autistic Children
–Less typical behavior: Children with autism may show less of the typical symptoms of autism like rocking or yelling if they are around a dog.
-Increases patience: Being in charge of the dog and putting its needs before their own may show them how to handle waiting and frustration.
-Help social interactions: The child will learn to relate to the dog and other children. The dog will be a good excuse for other kids their age to play with him.
-Increase attention and concentration: When they walk the dog, they will learn to pay more attention to their surroundings.
-Help develop verbal and non-verbal communications, as well as helping to maintain eye contact without feeling uncomfortable.
-Lower stress and anxiety, and may even help overcome insomnia, as the child will feel more comfortable sleeping with the dog next to them.
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.
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