Gretchen Carlisle, a research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, interviewed 70 parents of children with autism.
She found two-thirds of the families owned dogs, and of the families with dogs, 94 percent of the parents reported their children with autism bonded with the dogs. However, even in families without dogs, 70 percent of parents said their children with autism liked dogs.
“Children with autism spectrum disorders often struggle with interacting with others, which can make it difficult for them to form friendships. Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with dogs, which can provide unconditional, non-judgmental love and companionship to the children," Carlisle said in a statement.
“Dogs can help children with autism by acting as a social lubricant. For example, children with autism may find it difficult to interact with other neighborhood children. If the children with autism invite their peers to play with their dogs, then the dogs can serve as bridges that help the children with autism communicate with their peers.”
Carlisle said her study only addressed dog ownership, but dogs might not be the best pet for a child with autism.
“Dogs may be best for some families, although other pets such as cats, horses or rabbits might be better suited to other children with autism and their particular sensitivities and interests," Carlisle said.
The findings were published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing.
[University of Missouri]