How animals can help autistic children

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Autistic children can suffer from a number of challenges in life. Socialisation is often one of the biggest problems and finding ways to improve their skills so they can interact with peers comfortably can be challenging.

Yet research from across the world has found that pets may be very beneficial in developing social skills in autistic children.

Dogs for autism therapy

Dogs are often one of the first pets that people think of when considering autism therapy. Dogs were one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans and they are well known for their personalities and loyalty to owners.

Dogs can make excellent autism therapy for children. When interacting with a dog, the animal becomes a social lubricant. This is when the dog acts as a way to attract other children into friendly social situations. A dog is always going to be a great conversation starter that allows friendships to grow and social skills to be learnt.

Yet not all autistic children are suitable for dogs. While some children will calm down with a dog, some will become more anxious.

Guinea pigs are great for autism

Other research has found that guinea pigs may the best pet for children with autism. In a classroom setting, a team of researchers found that children with autism spectrum disorders have better social skills after guinea pigs were introduced into the classroom and they were allowed to interact with them.

The study also found that children with autism were calmer in playing sessions with guinea pigs than when they were reading alone or in groups and playing with toys.

Another study found that guinea pigs helped children to talk, smile and laugh more when there were guinea pigs present. The same study discovered that whining, crying and frowning behaviours were also displayed less by children with autism.

Consider family dynamics

The challenge for using any pet for autism therapy is that you need to consider the family dynamics and the personality of both the animal and autistic child. Some animals do not have the personality to be with autistic children.

Likewise, some children will prefer other pets such as rabbits, cats, reptiles, fish or snakes. So before any decision is made on animal-related autism therapy, lots of research needs to be done by parents and carers.

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