Animals Ease Social Anxiety for Autistic Children

It’s no surprise that animals enrich our lives. Dog owners have lower blood pressure than people who don’t own dogs. This may be due to owners getting more exercise, but research shows that the simple act of petting a dog can lower a persons blood pressure.

kid-364573_640Animals are also stress soothers, social magnets, and relieve loneliness. Our kids benefit from them as well. Babies that are raised around pets have a healthier immune system, are less likely to get allergies and asthma, and they have fewer infections and colds during the first year compare to a pet-free household.

New study shows that pets are good for autistic children, helping to ease social anxiety. Companion animals like dogs, cats or guinea pigs help autistic children improve their social skills and interactions with other people by acting as a social buffer.

Previous studies suggest that in the presence of companion animals, children with autism spectrum disorders function better socially,” said James Griffin, Ph.D., of the Child Development and Behavior Branch at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). “This study provides physiological evidence that the proximity of animals eases the stress that children with autism may experience in social situations. “

By measuring skin conductance in children with autism and typically developing children, the study showed a significant drop in skin conductance when an animal was present. Researchers speculate that the unconditional acceptance that animals give eases the social anxiety and makes children feel more secure.

But before you rush out and get a pet, consider a few important facts. Having a pet is a commitment for years. Some cats can live as long as 20 years, although most live between 14-16 years as an indoor cat, shorter if they live outdoors. A dogs life span varies by breed, but 10 to 15 years is pretty normal. Then there is the expense of medical bills, food, daily care, boarding and supplies. The emotional reward is worth having a pet, but make sure this is something that will benefit the entire family.


For more on the study, visit the National Institutes of Health