There’s lots of information and research about how pets can benefit children with autism, but recent research suggests that pet ownership can also help offer stress-reduction for parents of children with autism. In a time in history where stress-reduction is life, it may be time to reconsider adding some furry feet to your family.
Research from the University of Missouri Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction found that pet ownership helped increase the social interactions and decrease the anxiety of children with autism by providing them comfort and support. But the research also found that pet ownership and the benefits of bonds with cats and dogs also helped reduce the stress level of the parents of children with autism too.
The study looked at over 700 families who have a family member with autism. The researcher surveyed the families, about both the benefits and the drawbacks of having a cat or dog as a pet.
While parents who had pets as part of the family claimed pet ownership was a responsibility, they also shared that the parents and kids with autism had strong, beneficial bonds with their pets. The survey revealed that parents didn’t feel increased stress due to having a pet, and that in homes with more than one pet? The benefits defined were even more significant.
Research continues to find that parents of children with autism suffer from higher-than-typical stress levels, and that the support and comfort pets gave to children with autism also helped decrease stress and anxiety on their parents’ parts as well.
Dr. Gretchen Carlisle was the study author of the research and said that some of the core challenges children with autism faced were with anxiety and communication. The research results found that parents believed pets helped increase their children’s social interactions and decrease their anxieties, and this benefit was relayed to the parents as well.
Dr. Carlisle said that it’s hard to find generally beneficial interventions because the characteristics of the autism spectrum are so diverse. Pet ownership seems to be an umbrella intervention that brings benefits for both the children with autism and their parents. Their research found that in homes where more than one pet lived, the benefits were even more noticeable.
Carlisle said that when choosing pets, the child with autism should be included in the decision to make sure that there is a good match between the child’s and the pet’s activity levels. Additionally, some children with autism have some specific sensitivities that may be triggered. For instance, a big and rambunctious dog that is highly active may be too much for the sensory systems of the child, and a quiet cat may be a better fit. It differs child to child, just like personalities of cats and dogs, which is why there’s much room for good matches.