Why Cats May be the Best Pets for Children with Autism
Posted: Mar 29th, 2019
The University of Missouri Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction has initiated a study focused on how cats may be the best companions for children with autism. The university is placing calm, friendly shelter cats between the age of nine months and three years into homes with a child on the autism spectrum.
The Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction is a collaborative center at the university between the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Sinclair School of Nursing. For a decade, the research center has been demonstrating the benefit of "the human animal bond on both ends of the leash."
As an aside, the project has been soliciting donations from the public. The contributions are going to help fund the placement of cats in the homes of children with autism, as discussed in more detail in a moment.
The research study has been given the name Feline Friends. The university will pay all basic expenses associated with the placement of a cat in the home of a child with autism. Researchers from the university will evaluate the impact a cat has on the lives of the child, parents, and other family members. The ultimate objective is to garner researched-based data that can be utilized when seeking a pet for a child with autism.
The study seeks cats between the ages of nine months and three years for a number of reasons. First, by the time a cat reaches the age of nine months, his or her adult personality typically is recognizable. Cats under the age of three years typically are more playful as well as accepting of a new environment.
In addition to research on dogs and cats, other animals have been studied when it comes to the benefits they may bestow on children with autism. These pets have included pigs, guinea pigs, and even tarantulas.
At the present time in the United States, there are several million more pet cats in homes than is the case with dogs. The study will also examine what impact the universe of felines already in homes of children with autism may have been having historically
Why Not Dogs?
In the United States, and elsewhere the world over, dogs commonly are utilized as companion animals for people with special needs. The University of Missouri has conducted a research study which suggested that dogs may not be the best choice for a child with autism.
70 children with autism were included in the study. Of the children with dogs in their homes, parents reported that they thought their kids had bonded (at least to some degree) with the canines. The study affirmed that dogs provided these children with companionship and unqualified love and affection. This particularly is important for children with autism because they struggle with interacting with others and have challenges forming friendships.
Two drawbacks were associated with dogs that render them less than ideal in some situations involving children with autism. Of course, there are smaller canines. However, larger dogs proved intimidating to children with autism.
Another issue involved sound. Dogs can be loud. Many children with autism have significant sensory sensitivity to noise. For example, if a dog of any size suddenly starts barking, this conduct can be alarming and troubling to a child with autism.
As mentioned previously, a specific type of cat is included in this study. These are cats that are naturally friendly and calm. These cats also tend to less frequently surprise people around them by making loud noises, seemingly out of the blue.
Cats are also smaller in stature and have particularly soft fur. These are both attributes that appear to be appealing to a child with autism.
Impact on Social Skills and Social Interaction
The study involving cats and children with autism, as well as the one focused on dogs, ultimately strives to provide hard data on the impact of pets in the home of a child with autism. Specifically, the studies focus on how pets in the household, specifically cats and dogs, improve the social skills and the ability to interact of a child with autism. The hope is that this data will be helpful when parents contemplate the addition of a companion animal to the home.
Thus far, the studies suggest all pets tend to enhance the ability of a child with autism to interact with others. The study involving dogs indicates that having a canine doesn't contribute to an improvement of specific social skills. The jury is still out on the impact a cat in the household has on specific social skills.
Jessica Kane is a writer for Handicapped Pets, your most trusted source for dog wheelchairs and harnesses.