How Pets Benefit Autistic Adults

pets and autism

The ultimate best friends image: zeljkosantrac

Pets can make great running partners, snuggle buddies and quite simply, best friends. With so much unconditional love to give, they can brighten a day just by wagging a tail. But beyond companion animals, nonprofits like Canine Companions for Independence train dogs to assist people with disabilities, and studies show pets and therapy animals can help improve social behaviors of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a group of developmental disabilities that can cause challenges in social interactions and interpersonal skills amongst people.

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A 2012 study  on pets and autism showed an increase in prosocial behaviors in ASD adults when an animal was introduced into their home. Specifically, the adults ‘offered comfort’ and ‘offered to share’ when they were suddenly in the presence of animals. This particular study included a wider age range of individuals reaching into their adulthood than most studies, which tend to focus on younger subjects since ASD is usually diagnosed in childhood. The study is important to highlight because it showed adults with ASD who are introduced with a pet in their home setting can respond just as positively as a child with ASD.

Speaking with a psychiatrist or engaging in group support therapy, animal assisted therapy or even some sort of temporary hospitalization can provide individuals with ASD with the coping skills and awareness to deal with the symptoms. Other studies show pets can help make ASD individuals more approachable because instead of focusing on how the autistic person is “different,” people will strike up a conversation about the animal.

The results of these studies offer hope to individuals and families who are struggling with the consequences of ASD. We’ve discussed before the calming and healthy response many pets have around all types of people, so the prosocial effects of pets in a household with someone who has ASD is fantastic news. Share some of the ways your pet helps you and if you know anyone who has ASD, what else you have found helpful.

dr. uruj kamal

dr. uruj kamal

Dr. Uruj Kamal is Chief Resident of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center-University of Massachusetts Medical School. A Stony Brook native, she enjoys combining her knowledge of mental health with healthy living. Dr. Kamal has a special interest in outpatient adult psychiatry.