Benefits of Dog Ownership for Children on the Spectrum

Happy national puppy day! Animal therapy has a long list of benefits, particularly for our mental health. But what sort of benefit could dogs bring to children with autism disorder?

A study published by the Journal of Pediatric Nurses surveyed parents of children with autism about their children’s interactions with dogs. Results indicated that of these, 94% of parents said that their child was able to bond strongly with their pet. Additionally, 7 out of 10 parents reported that their children enjoyed interacting with dogs (Autism Speaks).

You may be wondering why these results have anything to do with children with ASD. Don’t these results simply indicate that children generally like pets? Well, that’s not all. Results also indicated that children with autism living with dogs interacted with their pets successfully in play and even shared personal space. That’s no easy feat. While the study also brought to light a few drawbacks such as time and cost of care, parents indicated their children were able to learn responsibility and companionship.

Whatsmore, Autism Canada lists the following as the benefits of dog ownership in families of children with ASD (or service dogs):

  • Helps children behave positively by commanding the dog
  • Lowers aggression and frustration levels (positive behavioural changes)
  • Provides comfort when the child is upset
  • Adds a degree of predictability to social settings for both the child and parents

Additionally, study by Grandgeorge, M. et al, suggested that children with autism who had a family pet from a young age tended to have greater social skills. In particular, the study found that “with parental support, the child involvement towards a pet may influence his or her socio-emotional development” under certain circumstances.

Family benefits

A study by the University of Lincoln found that stress associated with parenting a child with autism steadily decreased among dog owners over time, but the same did not occur with families of autistic children without a dog. Researchers followed up with these families a little over 2 years after they first introduced the dog into their families in order to “determine the longevity of the benefits of pet ownership” and found that the benefits lasted years beyond the initial excitement of a new family pet (ScienceDaily). Stress levels continued to experience a steady decline.

No one-size-fits-all

Not every child with autism experiences the same difficulties. As a result, it’s important to be careful when choosing a pet. For example, children sensitive to sound may not respond well with a dog who barks all the time. Neither would a child who gets easily agitated with a dog who gets overly excited. Depending on the child’s difficulties, a pet may not even be beneficial to their development all together so make sure to be cautious about your decision. 

Whether or not you decide a dog is the right for you and your family, a little help goes a long way. Terrace Autism Therapy offers a wide array of services including respite services, ABA therapy,  IBI therapy, and affordable counselling for parents of children with autism. Book a consultation, give us a call at 613.831.1105 ext. 107 or email our team lead at ahayes@terracewellness.com. We’re here for you.

References

  • Carlisle, G. K. (n.d.). Pet dog ownership decisions for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved March 22, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24183985
  • Grandgeorge, M., et al. (2012, August 1). Does Pet Arrival Trigger Prosocial Behaviors in Individuals with Autism? Retrieved March 22, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3411605/pdf/pone.0041739.pdf
  • Autism and Pets: More Evidence of Social Benefits. (2014, April 16). Retrieved March 22, 2018, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/autism-and-pets-more-evidence-social-benefits
  • Dogs de-stress families with autistic children, new research shows. (2016, July 20). Retrieved March 22, 2018, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160720094602.htm
  • Service Dogs. (2017, December 12). Retrieved March 22, 2018, from https://autismcanada.org/living-with-autism/treatments/related/service-dogs/

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