For ages, people have had animals in their homes as companions. They’re fun to play with, cuddle, and help teach responsibility. Modern research has also shown a great number of benefits for autistic children who have pets.
While many parents choose a dog as a therapeutic companion, the options don’t stop there. Autistic children can find benefit from in-home pets such as cats or guinea pigs, along with farms animals such as chickens or horses.
The experience of interacting with an animal often helps to reduce anxiety and bring comfort. Autistic children are also better able to learn social skills when they have a pet from a young age. The bond created by nonjudgmental interaction helps to instill a sense of compassion and emotional understanding. Dogs in particular are very good in helping keep kids safe who may be prone to wandering away from supervision.
If you are not ready to introduce an animal into the home, you can still find ways to help your child find therapeutic bonds through animals. Farms often have programs for special needs kids to come ride horses, take care of chickens, or feed bunnies. The added benefit here is this often creates a helpful bond with the other kids that come to visit the animals, furthering social skill growth.
While there are many therapeutic benefits to having your child interact with animals, it also isn’t a universal option. You will need to consider your child’s personality and sensitivities when choosing whether to have pets and which kind of pet you believe would benefit your child, and your whole family, the most.
When choosing a dog for instance it would be wise to choose a dog specifically trained for autism therapy. Dogs that are not trained in this way may startle some autistic children with loud barking or other sudden, aggressive movements or actions. Autism assistance dogs are trained to be gentle, and to have certain instincts for protection. Some parents have found cats to be a beneficial alternative altogether due to their calm, nonchalant temperaments.
Other cautions are wise to consider such as weighing financial costs, the risk of allergies, or general safety concerns.
Ultimately, choosing to introduce a pet into the family life is a big step that must be taken seriously. However, after careful consideration and exploration, you may find that it may be one of the most positive and life-changing decisions for your child with autism.