Owning a pet is a hefty responsibility for the parents of the children who begged to have a cat or dog. But pets provide many benefits to children and families. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children raised with pets have stronger self-esteem and self-confidence, have more trusting relationships with others, and show more compassion, respect, and empathy.

Now, researchers have found that welcoming a new pet into the home has even greater benefits to children who have autism.

Social Improvements

According to a report by PLOS One, bringing a new pet into the home of a child with autism can lead to significant improvements in social skills within a matter of a few years, including the abilities to share and offer comfort.

Researchers observed children with autism who had lived with a pet since birth, those with a new pet, and those who never had a pet. They found that the children who received a new pet (especially between the ages of four and five) showed the most improvements, displaying increased interactions with family members, and showing attention to the new pet. However, those children who had lived with a pet since birth rarely interacted with the animal.

Non-verbal Communication

Many children with autism are non-verbal, and family members often struggle to communicate with these children.

The use of electronic devices has helped autistic children to communicate; however, pets may be able to teach stronger non-verbal communications skills as well.

Children with autism have difficulty using and understanding non-verbal communication as well as emotions. Since we mostly communicate with our pets non-verbally and our pets only communicate with us non-verbally, having a pet provides children with autism the opportunity to learn and understand this form of communication as well as how their body language affects their pet.

If you are the parents of  a child with autism, consider adopting a pet for your child or even investing in an autism assistance dog, which, besides being a pet and best friend, can also help you care for your child. Autism assistance dogs help children sleep, keep them from wandering off, and successfully track them when they do wander off.

For a parent of a child with autism, these dogs can literally be lifesavers.