Children with autism have several difficulties with social interaction. Non-verbal communication, non-literal language, and some rules around social behaviour can all be very difficult to understand for children with autism. The result is that many of these children feel isolated and struggle to develop relationships with others. However, a 2015 study from America , in addition to a wealth of anecdotal evidence from families and supporters, suggests that pets may be able to help children with autism improve their social skills.
How can pets support children with autism to improve their social skills?
- Providing a shared topic of interest with others: We adore sharing stories and images of our furry friends as a nation of animal lovers.
Having a pet can support children with autism to share a common interest with others, helping to initiate conversations. Dogs, in particular, tend to lead to interactions with others, but the American study also found that children with autism were more likely to take part in social interactions if their pet was present.
- Increasing confidence: Children with autism who had dogs were also more likely to engage in conversation, address questions, and ask for information than those who did not have pets, according to the same study.
- Encouraging empathy: Having a pet at home can be very helpful to teach children with autism about empathy, compassion, and kindness toward others.
- Encouraging responsibility: Many children with autism or additional learning needs can be used to receive negative feedback for their behaviour. Looking after a pet is a very praiseworthy activity and also gives the young person structure and routine.
Studies have also indicated that the presence of a pet can help children with autism face situations that they find stressful, such as a busy shop.
Supporting children with autism in London and nationwide to choose a pet
Every child with autism is unique, so their choice of pet will reflect this. While dogs are often considered the best pet for people with autism, some children can find the unpredictable behaviour of dogs (for example, chasing other animals) frightening. Placid breeds such as Labradors are usually considered the best choice. But it’s not all about the canines. Cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs can all also be very beneficial and with lower maintenance requirements than a dog.
While owning a pet may not be realistic for all families, there is evidence that having one can help children with autism develop their social skills. If you’re thinking of adding a furry friend to your home, My Family Your Needs offers information and advice on this topic (https://www.myfamilyourneeds.co.uk/support-parent/could-a-dog-benefit-your-autistic-child/).
Liaise also offers outcome-focused support services for people with autism in London. We are also pleased to have our very own therapy dog, Milo, a charming apricot-coloured two-year-old labradoodle, who supports people with autism in London.