Parents of autistic children with family pets report lower levels of stress, major study reveals

Parents of children with autism report lower levels of stress if they have a family pet compared to those without a pet, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of Missouri, investigated the positive and negative impact a family pet can have on the lives of parents and their autistic children.

The researchers surveyed some 700 families with at least one autistic child, asking each family member about the benefits and burdens of having a dog or cat in the family, as well as their stress levels.

According to the responses, owning a dog or a cat comes with additional responsibilities, such as walking, feeding and cleaning up after them, which many see as a burden.

But both parents and children with autism report having “strong bonds” with their pets, leading to overall reduced stress levels. Moreover, families with more than one pet reported more health and stress benefits.

Commenting on the findings, the researchers suggested that pets could help increase social interaction and decrease anxiety, as well as provide comfort and support to parents and children with autism.

But before sprinting ahead and bringing a pet into the family home, lead author Gretchen Carlisle said parents should carefully consider that the pet’s activity level is a “good match with the child’s”.

“Some kids with autism have specific sensitivities, so a big, loud dog that is highly active might cause sensory overload for a particular child, while a quiet cat may be a better fit,” she said.

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.

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