Children on the Autism Spectrum have a special bond with dogs. They are natural companions, but why is this? How do dogs bond with children on the spectrum and what benefits do they have?
There are many personal and social benefits for them to own or interact with dogs on a regular basis. In addition to technology, coaching, and acceptance, dogs are a key element to help children on the Autism Spectrum thrive. Let’s see why.
In 2014, theJournal of Pediatric Nursing surveyed American families with at least one child on the Autism Spectrum and found that 67% of them owned a dog. Of those, 94% said their child on the spectrum had formed especially strong bonds with the dog. Furthermore, 70% of the families without a dog said their child enjoyed being with dogs.
Part of this bonding comes from what is known as sensory support. The simple act of a dog laying its head on a person’s lap can bring a sense of calm which allows someone to process their sensory needs.
People on the spectrum experience the world in a more vivid form. Noises, smells, bright lights, people moving, and textures all flood the brain with sensory information. That combined with difficulty socializing (see below) brings about higher than normal anxiety and stress levels.
Dogs help reduce stress levels by providing what is known as social support. This is where positive social interactions help improve a person’s mood. A study by Allen, Blascovich, and Mendes showed thatdogs and cats can provide social support for cardiovascular patients, and the same is true for people on the spectrum too.
Let’s not forget that if people on the Autism Spectrum have heightened senses or at least are flooded with more information consciously, then that’s nothing compared to dogs. Our canine friends experience far more of the senses than we do; especially hearing and smell. Part of the autism-dog bond is over this sensory world.
This is very important. To make sense of the world and to deal with all the things that need doing, people on the spectrum like consistency and rules. This brings order to chaos. Dogs are the same. They are consistent animals. The same action to the dog will elicit the same response. They’re predictable when you get to know them and this makes it easier for people on the spectrum to bond with them.
Do you remember the beginning of101 Dalmatians where Pongo helps introduce Roger to Anita? The social nature of dogs goes beyond initiating romance. Their presence initiates contact with people who might have previously ignored you. Furthermore, they help bond co-workers and fellow students together.
Autism is often seen as a developmental disorder. As part of this, social and certain other skill sets develop later than for the average child. Touchpoint wearable devices have proven to helpreduce 72% of self-harming and disruptive behaviors. However, dogs have their own role to play too in development.
Reading dogs have been employed across America and the West to help children learn to better articulate and to read aloud. Why? Peer pressure, feeling judged and mocked, can seriously harm a child’s ability to progress with these skills.
One of the many long-term psychological issues people on the Autism Spectrum suffer is constant rejection. A dog does not reject. Instead, they lay there next to you or put their head on your lap, and they listen to your voice. Children with developmental issues have benefited greatly from being able to read to dogs.
*This blog was brought to you by Lucy Wyndam.