Pets may Help Kids With Autism

Autism social skills were better in late childhood when a family pet arrived after age 5

(RxWiki News) Pets can be a happy addition to any family. New research suggests that bringing home a new pet may be helpful for children with autism.

Children with autism who got a family pet after age 5 had some improved social skills. Children with autism who always had a family pet did not show the same improved skills. 

More research is needed, but bringing a pet into the family at certain times may help children with autism improve social skills.

"Talk to your child’s psychiatrist about animal therapy programs."

The study, led by Marine Grandgeorge, PhD, of the Center for Autism Resources in Bohar, France, started with 260 children and their families.

Parents were interviewed about the child’s autistic traits and social skills when the child was 4- to 5-years-old and again when the child was 10- to 12-years-old.

At the second interview, the families were asked about the types of pets in the home, when the pet arrived and the relationship between the child and the pet.

From the large group of children, the researchers looked for children that got a pet after age 5 and those that had a pet in the family since they were born.

One group of 12 children got a family pet after age 5, and they were compared to 12 children of the same ages and autism traits who never had a pet.

They found that children who got a pet between the ages of 4 and 5 were more likely to show improvement on sharing and offering comfort than the children who did not ever have a pet.

Sharing and offering comfort are considered pro-social behaviors – meaning they are skills that can lead to more complex social skills.

Another group of eight children had a family pet in the home from birth. They were also matched to children of the same ages and autism traits who never had a family pet.

Children who had a pet in the home since birth were not different from children who never had a pet.

The authors concluded, “This study reveals that in individuals with autism, pet arrival in the family setting may bring about changes in specific aspects of their socio-emotional development.”

The researchers also point out that their study was limited.  They had a large sample of children, but only a small part of the group fit into the categories of the study.

The small groups of children also kept them from exploring why the arrival of the pet made a difference. More research is needed.

This study was published August 1 in PLoSOne. This study was supported by the Adrienne and Pierre Sommer Foundation. The authors report no financial conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 5, 2012