Looking after a pet can help children with autism
A study by the Hospital Research Centre of Brest has revealed an interesting connection between pets and children with autism. The study divided a selection of autistic children in to 3 categories:
1) those who grew up in a household without pets
2) those who grew up with a pet from birth
3) those whose families introduced a pet into the family home when the child was 5.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the study showed that caring for a pet can help autistic children with their personal, social and emotional development. However, what is interesting is that it seems that this benefit only seems to exist when the pet is introduced to the family dynamic after the child has grown up a little. The presence of a pet from birth seemingly has very little impact on an autistic child’s social skills and self-esteem.
Very few of the families who participated in the study whose children had grown up with pets reported that the child took any significant interest in the pet in the sense of caring for it or playing with it. By contrast, the research suggests that children given a pet aged 5 are far more likely to comfort and empathise with their pets and with other children and family members when they are unwell or unhappy. This suggests “the arrival of a pet may trigger a change in the way some children perceive the social world.
You can view the study in it’s entirety in the Journal PLos ONE.