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Children with autism benefit from family dogs

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When a child is diagnosed with autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the parents’ decision to adopt a dog as a family pet becomes questionable. Depending on the severity of the child’s disorder, the dog may disrupt the treatment plans for the child. Therefore, it comes as good news that a University of Missouri researcher found that most children diagnosed with autism benefitted from having a family dog, according to a press release on April 14.

The researcher, Gretchen Carlisle, interviewed 70 parents of children diagnosed with autism. Most of these parents (almost two-thirds) owned dogs. Of the two-thirds who owned dogs, 94% reported their children bonded with the dogs. Additionally, most of the parents who did not have a family dog reported their children with autism “liked” dogs.

Carlisle suggests parents prioritize their child’s sensitivities before adopting a dog (or any pet). The child may have auditory or tactile sensitivities which may complicate the treatment plans for that child. A loud bark or a wiry dog may not be beneficial to a child sensitive to loud noises or a child who does not like to touch certain textures/objects. It is imperative to factor in the unique characteristics of the disorder per child before adopting a dog into the family, including autism service dogs.

Autism service dogs are gentle breeds which are noted for high intelligence and trainability. The dogs are trained to interrupt self-harming behaviors of the child, help prevent the child from wandering and to aid in soothing the child during an emotional ‘melt-down.’ Additionally, autism service dogs provide the opportunity for social bonding such as hugs and encourage healthy social skills of the child. It is for this healthy bonding factor that Carlisle strongly suggests when the decision to adopt a dog for a child with autism (whether it is a service dog or family dog), the parents involve that child when choosing the dog.

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