Can Owning a Pet Help a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism is a once-rare, now-all-too-common disorder that affects up to six out of every 1,000 children. Usually characterized by communication problems, social deficits and repetitive behaviors, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a form of pervasive developmental disorder. For anyone who has ever experienced life with an ASD child, the condition can be challenging, and even heartbreaking. “Social deficits” is a cold clinical term that hardly conveys the helpless agony of a parent whose child resists his mother’s touch. From personal experience, I have come to the conclusion that it’s possible to reverse the progression of this disorder by removing toxins from the diet and environment, and by focusing on excellent nutrition.
Some new research points to another approach that may also help: Bringing a new pet into the family. French researchers published a study recently that concluded that introducing a pet into the home of a person with ASD resulted in improvements in “prosocial behaviors.” These behaviors included “offering to share” and “offering comfort.” That may not sound like much, but an apparent inability to empathize with others is a key hallmark of ASD, and I have no doubt that the parents of the children in this study took great comfort from these signs of empathy, communication, and selflessness from their children.
Interestingly, there was a more noticeable effect when a new pet was introduced into the family, as opposed to having a pet in the home from the time of the child’s birth.
Grandgeorge M, Tordjman S, Lazartigues A, Lemonnier E, Deleau M, Hausberger M. Does pet arrival trigger prosocial behaviors in individuals with autism? PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e41739. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041739. Epub 2012 Aug 1.
Newschaffer, C, Croen, Daniels et al. (2007). "The epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders". Annual Review of Public Health 28: 1–24.