Pets can feel like family members and friends now more than ever. Many children go through one or several phases of wanting a furry friend. If no family members have any severe allergies and you have the space equipped to keep a pet, it may be a serious consideration for you. However, if you have a child on the autism spectrum, you should keep their needs in mind, especially with an important life decision like getting a pet. Let’s go over the benefits and considerations to keep in mind when deciding if a pet is right for your family.
Benefits of Pets
Although it is not a replacement for early intervention and therapy, research shows benefits to having a pet in the home for many children with autism. Studies have shown that children on the spectrum are more likely to display more social behaviors when they have a pet in the home. Communicating with a pet encourages overall communication skills, developing a more vital ability to build interpersonal relationships with others.
Another benefit is the added responsibility involved in pet ownership. Involving your child in your pet’s training and daily care can be rewarding to teach responsibility and practice effective task management. For example, adding the daily routine of feeding and walking the dog to your child’s day can help them manage time, practice their motor function and get exercise. Owning and bonding with a pet also encourages empathy towards other humans and animals, improves mood, and promotes positive emotions.
Is a Pet Right for My Child?
Before you rush out and buy the first dog you see, consider a few crucial factors first.
- Lifestyle: If you live in a small apartment or don’t have access to open spaces suitable for a dog, choose a pet that doesn’t require a lot of space, such as a rabbit or hamster.
- Cleaning: All pets, particularly those kept in cages, need clean environments. Waste products must be cleaned daily, and bedding replaced regularly. Consider your child’s sensory sensitivities and whether they can tolerate strong or unpleasant smells.
- Feeding: Pets need food and water daily, so consider the cost of the appropriate foods.
- Attention: Does your child have experience interacting with live animals? And are they comfortable with animals touching them?
- Noise: Children with sensory processing issues or anxiety may not like the pitch of a dog’s bark or may be extra sensitive to other noises like squawking from a bird.
If you choose to get a pet for your child, ensure the timing is right, and they have an actual interest in animals. Owning a pet helps ease daily anxieties and facilitates socialization and understanding.
The Connections Therapy Center
The Connections Therapy Center serves families of children and adolescents with disabilities and special needs. We are a team of experts in behavioral sciences. As a team, we offer intensive hands-on therapy for children and adolescents, as well as informative and useful resources for families. If you are interested in learning more about what we can do to help your family, visit us online or give us a call at (301) 577-4333. Want to get more information on how to help your child thrive? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.