When a person with autism becomes a pet owner, they join millions of animal lovers who share the same passion and interest and it can become life changing. Autism Awareness Week is between 1st and 7th April. At this time we also raise awareness of National Pet Month, making a powerful combination. Having autism can be a significant challenge and very stressful but pets can provide a buffer to that stress and provide emotional, physical and social support. Pets provide companionships that benefit individuals day in and day out. It can be easier for people with autism to interact with pets, as pets are non-judgemental and unconditional. Having a pet can reduce anxiety, have a positive effect on behaviour and improve confidence.
Any kind of pet can have a positive effect but it is important to consider the sensitivities of the person with autism, ensure that it is a good match and consider the dynamics of the home if living with family or others. Studies highlight the benefits and long-term improvements to the lives of family members with dog ownership. Whether it is a dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig or a fish, pets can help people create strong bonds. Many animals also provide unconditional relationships, which can help with interactions and build social skills. Even a time of short play with a pet can be beneficial particularly therapy dogs. Pets provide a sense of calm and are considered “social lubricants” meaning that people will engage and talk more when there is a pet in their social setting.
People have been found to smile more when they are around animals. Owning a pet fosters responsibility, autonomy and self-esteem, which improves the individual’s independence. Maintaining contact with animals is regarded as a natural and crucial part of life, particularly for people with autism.