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Can animals help children with autism spectrum disorder?

More and more, people are starting to consider the importance of the presence of animals in the lives of kids with autism spectrum disorder. So far, studies and research have been limited, but what has been released is very promising – children with autism spectrum disorder look to display a lot of positive social behavior, like laughing and talking, when they have a companion furball by their side.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Even for those who don’t have autism, it’s been proven that they thrive when they’re with a beloved pet. Animals reduce depression, anxiety and fear, many things that people with autism feel. Animals have also been proven to help reduce behavioral problems in people with and without autism spectrum disorder.

Purdue Veterinary Medicine’s Organization for Human-Animal Interaction Research (OHAIRE) lab studied unique interactions between animals and people with ASD. Here are some of the reasons they found why animals are so important to include in the lives of children with autism spectrum disorder:

Animals help kids with autism spectrum disorder focus. One study found that kids with autism look at the faces of dogs longer than they do on the faces of humans, so there’s positive feedback that dogs can help keep kids with ASD stay attentive.

Animals act as an icebreaker. Dogs and other animals seem to encourage people to let their guard down – they’re a lot more social when an animal is around than when they’re not. So if a child who has social challenges has an animal with them, it may help them begin or engage back in conversation, leading them to become more confident and comfortable in various social situations.

Animals reduce stress. Not much more needs to be said; it’s widely accepted that kids with autism spectrum disorder undergo a lot of stress at home and at school, and may be very challenged with knowing how to positively relieve themselves of that stress. What dogs and other animals do is help them with stress relief, and at the very least, absolve them of the loneliness that so often comes with stress.

Does my child need a therapy or service dog?


First, let’s clarify what a therapy dog is. A therapy dog isn’t a guide dog; an autism spectrum disorder therapy dog is specifically trained to help people with ASD, helping improve their owner’s communication skills and helping ensure their safety. They’re also taught to comfort and reduce stress, even when their guardian can’t figure out just how to verbalize how they’re feeling.

Does your child need an ASD dog? Every child is different, and that’s for you and your therapist to discuss, but it may not be necessary. Sometimes, the calming effect of any animal – dog, cat, horse or otherwise – is enough.

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