“My sunshine doesn’t come from the skies. It comes from the love that’s in my dogs eyes.” –Author Unknown
Johnny and Susie Smith* live the ideal life. He is a successful criminal lawyer on his way up in the legal circles and Susie is a leading architect specializing in resorts. They live with their three children ages 10 years, 8 years and 3 years as the center of their universe. They had noticed and so did their nanny that the youngest in the family, Brenda was a little different. She seemed withdrawn and was generally less communicative. Initially, they ignored it thinking all children are unique and had their own growth trajectories. However, with time it did not go away but intensified. Worried they browsed the internet and consulted professionals. Examinations by a psychologist led to the discovery that Clara has an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.
To help Brenda with the development of skills, the Smiths went to the local dog pound and brought home Rover, a mixed rescue dog with the gentlest of personalities and a favorable disposition. With a gradual introduction over time, Brenda warmed up to Rover and spent most of her free time with him. The two became inseparable and the extended family noticed subtle differences in her demeanor, approach, and behavior over time. Rover in his own way began to exercise a positive influence on Brenda paving the way for her social development.
Just as Rover did for Brenda, owning a pet animal or interacting with one provides children with many benefits. These therapeutic benefits include:
Companionship and friendship
Minimize feeling of loneliness
Reduce anxiety and stress
Improve social communication.
A study was conducted in 2013 by the University of Missouri lead by Gretchen Carlisle, a research fellow at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, with the participation of around 70 parents of children with autism and their interaction with dogs. “Dogs can help children with autism by acting as a social lubricant,” Ms. Carlisle said. “For example, children with autism may find it difficult to interact with other neighborhood children. If the children with autism invite their peers to play with their dogs, then the dogs can serve as bridges that help the children with autism communicate with their peers.” Parents have noticed an improvement in the social interaction of their children thanks to therapy pets.
A pet animal may not be a cup of tea for every family with their unique circumstances, so they can explore alternative options like petting zoos, animal shelters for day visits, or even hiring “pets for the day”. However, some form of interaction with animals (in the form of animal-assisted therapy) may be beneficial for your child’s development and well-being.
*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality