This shouldn’t be news, of course—not when animals seem to be a sort of “social lubricant” for all children, Carlisle said. In fact, studies have shown that even neurotypical children tend to talk and engage more with one another when there is a pet in the classroom. And it is this very same effect that Carlisle believes benefits children with autism when there are pets within the home.
“When children with disabilities take their service dogs in public, other kids top and engage,” Carlisle said. “Kids with autism don’t always readily engage with others, but if there’s a pet in the home that the child is bonded with and a visitor starts asking about the pet, the child may be more likely to respond.”
Other findings of interest included that, the longer a family owned a dog, the more the child’s social skills seemed to improve; older children seemed to rate their relationships with dogs as weaker; and children seemed to report the strongest attachment to smaller dogs.
“Finding children with autism to be more strongly bonded to smaller dogs, and parents reported strong attachments between their children and other pets, such as rabbits or cats, serves as evidence that other types of pets could benefit children with autism as well,” Carlisle said.
And this little piece of information could be especially helpful when finding the perfect family pet for those that have a child with autism. Because each child is unique, and autism affects each child so very differently, it is very possible that a cat or a rabbit or some other small pet might be the best fit for their child.
“Kids with autism are highly individual and unique, so some other animals may provide just as much benefit as dogs. Though parents may assume having dogs are bet to help their children, my data shows greater social skills for children with autism who live in homes with any type of pet.”
Source: Growing your Baby, 1st Jan 2015