Autistic children were found to have stronger social skills when any kind of pet lived in the home. Pets could help autistic children be more assertive, says a study by the University of Missouri researcher.
Research fellow Gretchen Carlisle surveyed 70 families who had children with autism between the ages of 8 and 18. Almost 70 percent of the families that participated had dogs, and about half of the families had cats. Other pets owned by participants included fish, farm animals, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, a bird and even one spider.
Carlisle said that when she compared the social skills of children with autism who lived with dogs to those who did not, the children with dogs appeared to have greater social skills. More significantly, however, the data revealed that children with any kind of pet in the home reported being more likely to engage in behaviors such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people's questions. Such social skills typically are difficult for kids with autism, but the study showed children's assertiveness was greater if they lived with a pet.
She also found that children's social skills increased the longer a family had owned a dog, yet older children rated their relationships with their dogs as weaker. When children were asked, they reported the strongest attachments to smaller dogs.
Carlisle said that kids with autism were highly individual and unique, so some other animals might provide just as much benefit as dogs.