The Best Pets for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder
In the last several years, the term PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorders-Not Otherwise Specified) was renamed Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. This is deemed the more medically accurate terminology for children with a lack of verbal skills, the inability to establish a connection with other people, and trouble regulating behavior, among other characteristics. Children with ASD often appear to be detached from the world, and they can also be quite prone to meltdowns.
ASD has become prevalent over the years. Some parents of children with these disorders point to vaccines that allegedly disrupt an infant’s natural chemical composition. Meanwhile, there are health professionals exploring how the unhealthy lifestyle led by the earlier generations could be to blame.
While genetics is being considered one risk factor, there is still much scientific study to be done before a definitive cause for the disorders can be identified. One thing is for certain, though: One child (sometimes more than one) with the condition is being born to an increasing number of families today.
How Caring for Pets Impacts Children With ASD
One of the most important studies conducted for children with ASD is about the impact of having pets. The one study that yielded encouraging results was conducted across 41 classrooms in 15 schools in Brisbane, Australia.
Sixty-four 5- to 12-year-old children diagnosed with ASD comprised the study group. These students were allowed interaction with guinea pigs and significant improvement was witnessed with their behavior. There were increased social approach behaviors and decreased social withdrawal behaviors. Parents of the subjects also reported that they witnessed an increased interest in school.
Several other studies also reported positive results with other animals. Children with ASD who often had severe tantrums became less irritable after interacting with “emotional support animals.”
So, if you are a parent of a child with ASD and you are open to exploring various strategies to increase their engagement, having a family pet is worth considering.
Which Pets Are Ideal for Children with ASD?
Choosing a pet for your child with special needs has to be done thoughtfully. Although you are getting the pet to help with his development, the rest of the family will definitely need to share the responsibility of taking care of it. That’s something to factor in as well.
Thankfully, this task is now easier to accomplish because child development specialists and special education teachers have identified the best pets for children with ASD. Your family can just choose from the following animals based on your budget, the amount of care the whole family is capable of providing, and whether or not your home can easily accommodate the animal.
1. Guinea pigs
These little pets have been proven successful in helping to improve the behavior of children with ASD. They’re small and can remain confined in their cage. Children with ASD can hold the guinea pigs and spend a significant amount of time observing them.
It’s also worth mentioning that taking care of guinea pigs is easy and kids, whether they have ASD or not, can benefit from the light responsibility of looking after guinea pigs.
Being cute, soft and cuddly, rabbits can provide pleasurable sensory stimulation for kids with ASD. Also, bunnies are non-threatening, so children with aggravated behaviors that can be triggered by noise will enjoy how bunnies are always happy to just calmly stay on their lap while being stroked or fed.
Although cats can be indifferent at times, this can be an advantage for children with ASD. Furry felines that are quiet and not too rowdy or playful would not be over-stimulating for the children.
Cats and kittens are also soft and often enjoy being groomed, so you can invest in cat grooming products for your child to use during “engagement”, such as brushes.
Currently, there are varying opinions on how helpful dogs can be to children with ASD since most dogs and puppies can be very active. However, there is no discounting the positive impact that canines have historically had on some people with ASD.
For one, most kids with the condition naturally gravitate toward dogs. Also, dogs can be very protective and nurturing toward children with ASD; the pooches have been observed to provide unconditional and non-judgmental love.
Most child development specialists recommend Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, Labradoodles, and Staffordshire bull terriers as therapy dogs.
Equine therapy has proven to be quite beneficial for children with ASD. Trained horses, in particular, are very gentle (but then again, most horses are).
They are also very smart and curious and they tend to act based on the result of their understanding of people’s behavior toward them. Therefore, children with ASD can get the kind of interaction they need from these big yet mild creatures – one with unconditional acceptance.
If your family has the means to care for your own horse, you will be able to foster a relationship that can help encourage positive developments for your child.
There is no doubt that animals make great life companions, and certain animals can truly do so much more than others in the lives of people, especially those with special needs. So, welcome an animal family member to your family – for sure there will be an increase of love and protection for the one who truly needs it the most.
Farah Al-Khojai is the Managing Partner of Pet's Delight. A passionate entrepreneur, Farah holds a BSc in Government from the London School of Economics. She is always on the lookout for new opportunities to develop and grow the pet and equestrian retail and wholesale market in the UAE and beyond, and is proud to be at the helm of the first and the largest pet care provider in the market representing world-class brands including Orijen, Applaws, Hunter, Savic, Flamingo, Ruffwear and Rogz.