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Studies Reveal Pets Help Kids with Autism

| Published on February 1, 2015

As part of their ongoing research studies and programs focusing on the human animal bond, The Research Center for Human Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, conducted a survey to find out how pets help children with autism cope in social situations.

Grethcn K. Carlisle, PhD, Med, RN, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the ReCHAI, surveyed 70 families who has children between the ages of 8 and 18, with IQs greater than 70 and verbal ability. All of the children were patients at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

The Results

“When I 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,” Carlisle said in an interview with MU News.

Most autistic children are shy, and unsure about interacting with others in a social situation. However, the survey found that if the child had a dog, and so did the stranger, it could act as an “ice breaker” to get the kids interacting.

“When children with disabilities take their service dogs out in public, other kids stop and engage,” Carlisle said. “Kids with autism don’t always readily engage with others, but if there’s a pet in the home that the child is bonded with and a visitor starts asking about the pet, the child may be more likely to respond,” Carlisle explains in the interview.

Video courtesy of MU News

Not Just Dogs

The survey found that any pet could help an autistic child be more social. In the families that took the survey, 70 percent had dogs, 50 percent had cats, and others had fish, farm animals, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, birds, and even one spider.

It seems that any animal can help a child (or adult) lacking in social skills.

“We know that for adults and typically developing children, dogs act as a social lubricant, meaning they seem to help initiate and encourage conversation,” Carlisle told us. “This may also be true of children with autism. In the current study we know that the children with autism who lived with pets, including dogs, had greater social skills associated with assertion. Overall, nearly all of the children described themselves as bonded to their dogs.”

Continuing Research

ReCHAI is planning on continuing their studies on children with autism and pets. Anyone who has owned an animal no doubt understand their healing powers and their ability to do so much more for us than we could ever do for them. People like Gretchen Carlisle are helping us find even more ways animals can make our lives better just be being.


About the Author

Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She is the founder of A Fairytail House. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.

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