Learn about a new study that shows how autistic kids can develop better social skills if they own a pet
Autism is a neurological disorder that can hamper with a person’s ability to communicate properly. This can be especially challenging for autistic children who have to interact with other normal children on a daily basis. But, a new study by author Gretchen Carlisle, a researcher at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, found that owning a pet can play a vital role in developing better social skills for kids affected with an autism spectrum disorder.
Although research in this area is new and limited, the study showed that pets act as a tool for autistic kids to communicate efficiently with other children by building confidence and creating a bridge and giving them more options of things to talk with other children. This applies not only for children, but has been successfully observed with adults with an autistic spectrum disorder as well. However, autism experts like Dr. Glen Elliot, chief psychiatrist and medical director of Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, California, argued that the study doesn’t suffice as enough proof of whether owning a pet can be the exact reason for children with autism to communicate more efficiently than kids with the disorder who don’t have a pet.
Dogs and cats share a strong connection with autistic kids and provide emotional support for these developing individuals. Pets provide a sense of empathy in all children and serve as a medium to attract attention and build better social interactions. Research conducted on the subject previously was limited to how therapy dogs, service dogs, horses and dolphins have helped autistic individuals. But, this study explored the effects of cats, fish, farm animals, reptiles, rabbits, birds, rodents and spiders in the life of autistic children. Carlisle conducted the study by interviewing the parents of 70 autistic kids between 8 and 18 with different kinds of pets and analyzing the kid’s level of responsibility, empathy, self-control, engagement and communication. She then interviewed the children about their connection with their pets and found that every child had a minimum IQ of 70.
Compared to children who didn’t own dogs, the autistic kids with dogs displayed no significant social skills unless they had the dog for a long period of time. These kids when compared to their counterparts of the same age displayed better social skills and had lesser behavioral issues. But, the study didn’t properly conclude if the dog had an effect in the child’s social skills or if socially capable kids were better adapted to taking care of a dog. The study compared 13 autistic kids without any pets with those who had pets and found that the ones with pets had a more positive attitude to approaching and talking to others. However, since a majority of these interviews were conducted over the phone, the viability of it is debatable.
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