Study Suggests Pets Help Lower Family Stress Of Autism

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
This is a challenging time in humanity’s history, and parents all over the world are feeling the crunch of their children’s mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis. Not to mention, the crunch of keeping their own sanity stable. Recent research suggests that pets may help lower family stress of autism for both children and their parents.

Stress is on the tips of just about every tongue these days. Stress about going to work or being out of work. Stress about going to school or staying home from school. Stress about when we may see anything that looks sort of ‘normal’ again.

But researchers from the University of Missouri recently found that pets can help reduce stress for both children with autism AND their parents. Once again, we fall in love with our pets and all they add to our lives.

Related: Top 10 Dog Breeds For Autism

Gretchen Carlisle is a research scientist with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine. She and her team surveyed over 700 families from the Interactive Autism Network and asked about the benefits and burdens of having a cat or dog in the family.

Overwhelmingly, Carlisle found that despite the burden of pet care responsibility, those surveyed found a strong bond with their pets beneficial. Parents of children with autism who had multiple pets reported more benefit, and owning a pet was not related to parental stress.

Carlisle said that considering the traits and characteristics of the autism spectrum are so diverse, finding interventions that help children with autism and their parents can be hard. She also said that some of the biggest challenges children with autism face include trouble communicating and dealing with anxiety. Pets can help increase their social interactions and communications, as well as help decrease anxiety in children. Even better, though, is that they can provide similar benefits to their parents too.

Related: Impact of Shelter Cats on Kids With Autism

Carlisle recommends that if you’re considering adding a pet to your family, you should include your child with autism in the decision-making process. It’s important to make sure that the pet you choose has an activity level that matches the child’s. Some children with autism have certain sensitivities, so choosing a pet with a high activity level or who makes loud, rambunctious noises may not be the best fit. Finding the pet who matched activity level and child preference was the most important feature to choosing a pet.

Cat or dog (or both), the good news is evidence-based research has suggestions for ways to help lower stress for families. In this day and age, every little bit of stress reduction helps.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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