Pets for Kids with Autism

Posted by Shannon on Apr 9th 2024

APRIL 10, 2024

Pets for Kids with Autism

Learn about the benefits of animals for children with autism. Find out how interactions with therapy animals can enhance communication and reduce anxiety in kids with autism.

Dog laying on couch while on a blanket

Pets can be an amazing thing for children with autism, sensory disorders or any number of other special needs. Animal therapy has increased in recent years to treat a multitude of health conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, heart disease, emotional and behavioral disorders and chronic pain. It seems only logical that someone would study the effects of animal therapy on children with autism. The University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine has done research studies to prove the benefit that animals have for children with autism.

In a study conducted in 2014, the university’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction found that children with autism who have a family pet at home have more advanced social skills and are more assertive and communicative than children with autism who do not have a family pet at home.

Dr. Gretchen Carlisle, the lead author, and her team studied 70 families who have children that are patients at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. While most of the families had dogs, several had a variety of other animals including fish, farm animals, rabbits, reptiles, birds and even a spider.

Child playing with dog in living room

Dr. Carlisle’s data showed that children who live in homes that include pets were more likely to introduce themselves, ask questions and respond to other people’s questions—all things that can be difficult for children with autism. The researchers felt that the pets helped to provide an opportunity for the children to interact with others without realizing they were doing it.

Dr. Carlisle cautions that finding the right animal is key and is also different for each child. Dogs typically are the most common pets, especially for children, due to their energy, affection and playfulness. But, for a child with a sensitivity to noise, a barking dog may not be the best option. Cats can be great for a child like this—or rabbits, gerbils, etc. It’s important to match your child’s needs and personality to a pet that he or she can really bond with.

There are several other studies that conclude that owning a pet can really be beneficial to most people. Bonding with a pet has been shown to encourage empathy towards other humans. Pets have been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate and can even help children and adults to gain independence that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Girl holding cat in dining room

Animals can be a wonderful addition to any family, especially families with special needs children.


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This is only general information and is not meant for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical conditions. Always consult your physician or other health care provider about all health concerns, conditions, and recommended treatments.