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Pets could help relieve stress for children with autism and their parents

Families say that having a pet dog or cat can be a great benefit

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Photo (c) skynesher - Getty Images
While recent studies have found that pets can help reduce consumers’ stress levels, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia explored how pets could benefit the families of children with autism. 

According to the researchers, having a pet in the home can help lower stress levels for parents and for the children who have the condition. 

“Given that the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder are so broad, it can be difficult to identify interventions that are widely beneficial,” said researcher Gretchen Carlisle. “Some of the core challenges that children with autism face include anxiety and difficulty communicating. As pets can help increase social interaction and decrease anxiety, we found that they are not only helpful in providing comfort and support to children with autism, but to their parents as well.” 

The benefits of a pet

To better understand how pets can benefit families of children with autism, the researchers surveyed over 700 families in the Interactive Autism Network. All of the parents were pet owners, and the survey gauged their opinions about the pros and cons of having a pet in the home. 

Overwhelmingly, pets were seen as an added benefit for families of children with autism. Though pets were found to be an asset, the researchers did notice some difference between dog owners and cat owners, as well as those who had both dogs and cats in the home. 

The study revealed that dog owners were able to find more positives about having a pet in the home than cat owners; however, those who had both pets reaped the most benefits from their furry friends. 

Overall, pets were linked with lower stress levels for parents and kids, and those who were able to identify more pet-related benefits were also found to have the lowest stress levels. 

Creating lasting bonds

The researchers recommend that parents of children with autism consider adding a pet into the home, as doing so can help children create a lasting bond and improve all family members’ moods. However, it’s also important to consider children’s habits and make sure that the pet fits in with established behaviors. 

“Some kids with autism have specific sensitivities, so a big, loud dog that is highly active might cause sensory overload for a particular child, while a quiet cat might be a better fit,” said Carlisle. “My goal is to provide parents with evidence-based information so they can make informed choices for their families.” 

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