Dog ownership may help families of children suffering from autism, say researchers.
According to the study, the parents reported the benefits of dog ownership included companionship, stress relief and opportunities for their children to learn responsibility.
Gretchen Carlisle, a research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, said kids with autism spectrum disorders often struggle with interacting with others, which can make it difficult for them to form friendships.
Carlisle said children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship to the children.
Carlisle interviewed 70 parents of children with autism. Nearly two-thirds of the parents in the study owned dogs, and of those parents, 94 percent reported their children with autism were bonded to their dogs. Even in families without dogs, 70 percent of parents said their children with autism liked dogs.
Many dog-owning parents said they specifically chose to get dogs because of the perceived benefits to their children with autism, Carlisle said.
"Dogs can help children with autism by acting as a social lubricant," Carlisle said. "For example, children with autism may find it difficult to interact with other neighborhood children. If the children with autism invite their peers to play with their dogs, then the dogs can serve as bridges that help the children with autism communicate with their peers."
The study has been published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing.