Owning a dog is a rewarding experience for families that want a furry addition to the family. A study published in July 2016 states pet dogs can actually reduce stress for families who have children with autism. It’s the first research of its kind to correlate dog ownership with easing the difficulties of having a child who thinks differently from others.
Researchers at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom followed families for two-and-a-half years after a shorter term study. Scientists wanted to know if the short-term benefits of owning a dog translated to less stress among parents and kids on the autism spectrum. Based on the responses of the families with and without dogs, a pet canine can improve the functioning of families and reduce the number of dysfunctional interactions between a parent a child with autism. The study showed the stress of parenting a child on the autism spectrum decreased for families who had pet dogs.
Previous research regarding dogs and autism focused solely on the benefits of specially trained therapy dogs or autism service dogs. Therapy dogs help train and relax kids who go through regular therapy sessions designed to help children with autism. Service dogs live with the family and spend every possible moment with children on the spectrum as they provide constant comfort, support and routine to children at school and in their community. Agencies train service dogs to intervene when a child becomes too stressed and they can even try to rescue children who wander away from home. The 2016 research focuses simply on owning a pet dog that has no special training whatsoever.
Researchers from the University of Lincoln conclude that owning a pet dog can increase family harmony and improve the quality of life for families with kids on the spectrum. Dog ownership might prove to be a viable way to reduce the stress on these families as they weigh health care costs, therapy sessions and service dog ownership as ways to ease the emotional stress of a child who processes his world differently from the rest of the family. Dogs truly are man’s best friend if this study is any indication.