Can Pets Boost Social Skills in Children With ASD?

According to a new study, pets may help in the development of social skills for children who are on the spectrum. These are among the first few findings that help bridge the gap between pets and social skills in children with ASD.

Children with ASD often experience difficulties with communication and social skills. The results of this study, which imply that pets may help in bridging the communication gap that children with ASD face when talking to others, can be onto something.

The study has shown that there is a measurable difference in social skills with children on the spectrum, who have lived with a pet.

“However, the associations are weak and cannot be absolutely confirmed that ownership of a pet is going to improve the social skills in children with ASD,” says Dr. Glen Elliott, chief psychiatrist and medical director of Children's Health Council in Palo Alto, Calif.

While the study was designed to note the difference in social skills in children with ASD who had a pet at home, it wasn’t designed to confirm if pet ownership was the cause of the difference.

According to the study’s background, dog owners share close bonds with their pets. Other studies have also shown that pets provide developing children with necessary emotional support.

Pets also help in social interaction. They have been linked to fostering greater social confidence and empathy, especially in developing children.

A research study was recently conducted by Gretchen Carlisle to see if pet ownership made any difference in the lives and social skills of children with ASD. She conducted over 50 telephonic interviews with parents of children diagnosed with ASD. The interview, which was directed towards parents, was based around the child’s attachment towards their pets and respective social skills. She also conducted a series of interviews with the children as well. The children were aged between 8-18.

The study had found that over 55 households owned pets. Among these families, about 45 owned dogs and 35 had cats. Some families had other pets such as farm animals, rodents, rabbits, birds, reptiles, and a spider.

According to the study results, there weren’t significant differences in social skills in children who had pets and those who did not. However, having the companionship of a dog for an extended period of time was faintly linked with children having stronger social skills and fewer behavioral problems.

The study couldn’t determine if having a dog influenced a child’s social skills or if children with better social skills were likelier to have a dog.

The idea that pets can distinctively get through to children who are on the spectrum is not new. Pets are a source of joy to some children diagnosed with ASD, for many without ASD, and adults as well. However, it certainly cannot be touted as a cure for an underlying disorder.

For more information regarding pets & children with ASD, sensory therapy, cognitive skills, developmental disorders, and early intervention, please contact Stepping Stones Center. We emphasize acquiring new and appropriate behaviors, while also working on helping the child achieve developmentally age appropriate milestones through evidence-based practices.

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