The Benefits of Animals for Kids with Autism

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

Recently there was a study on the positive results animals had on children with autism. And I know of many autism parents who have expressed that their kids have a special bond with their pets – usually dogs.

Our building complex doesn’t allow pets and Norrin doesn’t have much interaction with dogs. He’s terrified of them, actually. And on the occasion he sees one on the street, he tries to run away. Which makes navigating certain blocks of Manhattan interesting since every other person is walking a dog.

My husband and I have spent a great deal of time trying to teach Norrin about animals – it continues to be a work in progress. Norrin’s been around cats, dogs, ponies, birds and fish. And in each interaction, I’ve seen different things:

Gentleness. Last summer we visited an aquarium in Connecticut and we let Norrin enter the bid house to feed the birds. He was timid by all the birds flying overhead but he was laughing, giggling. But as my husband demonstrated what needed to be done, I watched as Norrin held out his hand to feed the bird. His other hand, still at his side. He knew that any rapid movements would scare away the birds.

Understanding. Norrin is scared of dogs. The barking, the sudden movements – make him anxious. But still, he is interested in them and he’s curious. My best friend has two dog and two cats and it usually takes a lot of coaxing to get him into the apartment. But after a while, Norrin gets used to the pets. He understands that they must all share the space while he’s there. Sometimes, he’s even okay if one of the pets get close to him.

Focus: A few weeks ago, we took Norrin for a pony ride – his first. The kid who refuses to get on the carousel got on a pony. And he LOVED it! I admit I was a little surprised. After a few laps around the stables, we came home – the rest of the afternoon, Norrin was so focused, so calm – able to concentrate. And now we’re thinking of looking into hippotherapy.

I don’t know what it is about autism and animals. Maybe it’s easier for autistics to connect with animals. I’ve read about that. Reading about the benefits about animals and kids with autism is one thing, seeing it is another. And to see it for myself is really special.

Have you seen a connection between your child and animals?

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  1. by Lindsey Peterson

    On March 8, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing Norrin’s story! We never cease to be amazed the therapeutic benefits of animals, horses especially (of course, we may be a bit biased!)

    -Lindsey Peterson
    Community Relations Specialist
    Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center

  2. by Ellen Seidman

    On March 11, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    I could not agree more! We don’t have pets because we are not sure we can handle the responsibility (even though we are still considering a third kid and I don’t know WHAT that says about us). Max used to get hippotherapy (horseback riding therapy), and it was great for his muscles but there were all sorts of sensory benefits, too.

  3. by Kim

    On March 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Downs kids get pet benefits too, though it tends to be more motor than sensory. Our birds quick movements and squawking got our daughter to move her head to look for him when nothing else would. She learned to crawl by copying, and following, our pet rabbit. My sister`s cant taught her cause and effect, and gentleness. She just licked the dog back. I`m still not sure what was up with that..

  4. by VideoGamerCity

    On March 22, 2013 at 3:29 am

    Your Website is an awesome resource for learning. Keep up the Great Job and Share more such resources.

  5. [...] Luckily, a new study from the University of Missouri-Columbia shows that any pets—not just therapy dogs— can have help kids with autism improve social skills. After talking to 70 families with kids (ages 8 to 18) on the spectrum, lead researcher Gretchen Carlisle made an important connection between pets and kids with autism. [...]