Why autistic children should have a dog

22 June 2017

Dear friend,

I've always been a dog lover and as a child plagued my parents until they eventually gave in and got me one. He was quite a character and a massive part of my childhood and early adulthood. I loved having a dog and wanted my children to have the same experience. Then I started to read research into autism and how dogs were being used to support autistic children. Could this really help the big lad? A few weeks later we got Nova, a beagle crossed with a border collie and we've never looked back!

5 reasons why autistic children should have a dog.

1. Making social connections.

The dog can act as bridge to help your child make social connections. 

This happened with us almost immediately. Normally when people stopped to chat to us on the way to the shops the big lad would hide behind me or recoil if someone asked him a question often making an inappropriate noise/gesture that made the situation quite awkward. Most older people thought he was being rude and some even made comments. The first day we walked Nova an old lady spoke to the big lad and he responded appropriately and actually engaged in conversation. Nova became his link to the outside world, she somehow reduced the stress associated with communicating with other people. 

Researchers from the University of Missouri found that having a pet can dramatically improve social interactions of children with autism. Children with any kind of pet in the home are more likely to engage in behavior such as, introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people's questions. 

2. Emotional support.

Dogs have a sixth sense, they just seem to know when you need them next to you and when you don't! This is important with autistic children who often find it very difficult/impossible to describe to an adult how they are feeling. A dog can be a source of comfort to the child and provide companionship and friendship. 

Big lad went through a phase of wanting a best friend until we pointed out that he already has one, a slightly unconventional one but a source of unconditional love. At the end of a long day he can often be found snuggled up with Nova on the floor and even in her basket. Some parents using autism assistance dogs have also reported that they saw positive changes in behavior such as lower aggression/frustration levels. 

3. Learning responsibility.

Dogs are largely about routine, which autistic kids love. Why not put them in charge of some of this routine and learn to take responsibility for another living thing? Nova is my big lad's dog. He feeds Nova every morning. He goes with her on vet visits and he is beginning to take some responsibility for letting her out.  Having to take Nova to the beach/woods/dunes for a walk is also a great way to get the big lad from behind his computer and out interacting with people. 

4. Sleeping.

One of the most difficult and talked about subjects amongst autistic parents is sleep. How to get our children (and us) to sleep well, some children also wander at night which can be dangerous. Assistance dogs can be trained to sleep in the child's room and be a source of comfort to them when they are falling asleep or if they wake during the night. Many parents have reported very favorable results as the child may wake less and wander less when a dog sleeps in their room. 

5. Unconditional Love.

I asked the big lad what he thought was the best thing about having a dog and his answer was simple. I love her, she's just so cute! Who can argue with that? One of the greatest things about having a dog is that you always have a warm welcome waiting for you at home.

recent research study has shown that the type of pet you keep doesn't actually matter. Having any kind of pet, even a spider, can improve autistic children's social skills. Why not try it? 

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