Dogs (& Cats) Really Can Be an Autistic Kid's Best Friend

cat and dogYou know how some people just seem to have a "way" with animals? It's like they can communicate in some kind of interspecies telepathic language or something (think The Horse Whisperer). Personally, I think they're sensitive to a higher frequency the rest of us are not. That's why I wasn't surprised to hear the latest research about pets helping kids with autism to develop social skills -- after all, isn't a heightened sensitivity in general one of autism's defining characteristics?


According to a recent study, "children with autism who got a pet after age 5 showed improvement in their abilities to share with others and to offer comfort, whereas those who had a pet since they were born, and those who never had a pet, showed no such improvement."

Researchers aren't sure yet why this benefit only seems to kick in for kids who get their first pet after the age of 5, but the rest of it makes perfect sense. Besides, as I've learned, pets help all kids to develop social skills!

Since I never had any animals growing up (except a depressed goldfish) and have remained bitter about it ever since (just kidding, Mom! Ha!), I've always been a big believer in the whole "children should have pets" thing. Which is why my two kids saw their puppy dreams come true about a year ago. And guess what? Having a dog honestly has been GREAT for them, even if having a dog honestly has been WAY more work than I expected. (Hey, how was I supposed to know? It's not like I had a dog growing up or anything. Did I, MOM?!)

Anyway. Like the kids in the study, mine have gotten better at sharing and being considerate of others since our puppy Violet came along ("Oh no, the water dish is empty! She must be so thirsty!!"). But I think it all comes down to one thing noted by researchers: Having a new pet "strengthens the family's bonds and increases interactions between family members." It's really true. We've never laughed so much as a family unit as we do at Violet's ridiculous canine antics.

Does your family own a pet? Are you thinking of getting one? Why?

Image via Schubbel/shutterstock

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