3 Ways Having a Pet Benefits Your Child with Autism

As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, you likely already feel stretched too thin. The last thing you want to do is add even more responsibility into your household. 

However, we at Gersh Academy recognize the immense power animals have on our students. It is why we chose our campus at Cougar Mountain, where students have consistent opportunities to interact with animals.

If the idea of bringing in a pet has been brought up in your home, here are some of the benefits that come with it. 

Promotes Prosocial Behaviors

Many children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) struggle to initiate social interactions. They don’t always know how to start the conversation and anxiety kicks in. A pet serves as an instant and easily accessible topic of conversation. Often, the other person will approach the pet, or the pet owner about the pet, and suddenly your child is engaged in a conversation they are comfortable having.

For those on the autism spectrum who are nonverbal, communicating with the pet itself is done without any words necessary. Instead, pets often show companionship and affection solely through their behaviors.

As the children build relationships with their animals, the social skills learned in school become easily reinforced at home. If the animal needs food, or is expressing discomfort, the child is often tuned in to that feeling. Suddenly, they are less isolated, regularly noticing the feelings of others and figuring out ways to respond.

Relieves Anxiety

Anxiety plays a major role in many children on the autism spectrum. In fact, around 40 percent of people on the spectrum deal with anxiety. Simply being in the presence of an animal increases oxytocin levels in the brain, which has been shown to alleviate anxiety. 

If you’ve ever heard a pet owner claim their animal just always seems to know when someone is sick or having a hard time, there is truth to that. Animals detect anxiety in humans and work to lessen it, making them sources of comfort in tough situations. 

Improves Self-Confidence

If you have ever witnessed your child watch their peers accomplish something with ease that they struggle to do, it can be an extremely difficult moment. For children on the autism spectrum, any moment we can empower them is a moment to take advantage of.

Once you decide to bring in a pet, ask your child’s help when making decisions about it. Maybe they decide where the pet sleeps, the perfect name, how the pet gets exercise, or the type of food to feed it. Have them shoulder a lot of the responsibility, including feeding it and cleaning it. 

By valuing their input and trusting them with the needs of the pet, you are also increasing their self-confidence, which will work towards greater independence in the future.

Gersh Academy at Cougar Mountain is a one-of-a-kind school that truly recognizes the importance of animals and Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) in students with autism, and offers dog therapy, equine therapy, and goat therapy as a result. The school’s location next to a zoo helps students form even greater bonds with animals that result in innumerable benefits.  Reach out here for more information on how this unique school might be the perfect fit for your child.

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