This empirical research backs up what many working in the field of human-animal interactions have known for a long time.
For some children with autism, interacting with companion, therapy, or service animals can be life-changing.
Merope Pavlides, author of “Animal-assisted Interventions for Individuals with Autism,” urges families to think carefully, however, about how to best involve animals in their childs life.
Sometimes a study like this can drive families to act hastily, Pavlides notes. Adding a petno matter what the speciesshould be done thoughtfully, with careful consideration to the needs of the whole family. Pavlides, a special educator and dog trainer, has worked with many special needs families.
She recently conducted a webinar through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers to help dog trainers work more effectively with autistic children, and will be writing a series of articles for “The Chronicle of the Dog” on this topic.
People who work with autistic kids and animals often see amazing progress in their clients, Pavlides says.
For some childrenand adultson the autism spectrum, engaging with an animal can open up channels of communication and interaction that were previously closed.
That said, not all autistic people are going to find animal interactions helpful or even pleasant. For some, sensory issues triggered by proximity to animals can be overwhelming.
How can you tell if getting a pet for your child is the right choice? There are lots of ways to test out your childs responsiveness to animals, Pavlides says.
Many therapy animal groups provide opportunities for children with disabilities to interact with pets.
Consider how your child responds to pets he or she comes into contact with in the family or neighborhood.