ARCHIVED – Having a dog can improve social skills of autistic children
ARCHIVED: Please note, whilst every effort has been made to update blog posts, this blog post has been archived and may present outdated and incorrect information and terminology.
This is Skye.
I got her 5-6 years ago, a time when I was very much struggling with anxiety and depression and finding it difficult to put myself out there. She is completely untrainable, bossy and loud, but for many reasons she is also a super dog. Since I got her I have overcome much of my anxiety, and can these days leave the house with little fear. I now have a job working in schools with children, mostly special needs, thanks to the assertiveness and communication skills I learnt from her. Of course other people in my life have contributed to me tackling my lack of confidence, but it was her that kick-started it all. She was by my side when I nervously left the house to start walking her as a puppy, and then when I had to stop to talk to people I did not know. She taught me a lot about affection and not fearing contact with others, and also assertiveness at believing in myself as the boss (she will adamantly disagree). The reason I am telling you about her is because a recent study has found scientific evidence for dogs helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Carlisle (2014) conducted a telephone survey of 70 parents of children with ASD. Those children who had any pet had greater scores in assertion, but those specifically with dogs had greater social skills overall. Not only this but strong bonds were apparent between the children and their dogs.
As I wrote previously in my blog post ‘Autistic Man’s Best Friend: The connection between pets and autism‘ this bond may be due to the ‘…simple nature of an animal’s behaviour. They do not demand from you emotionally and they are unconditionally affectionate. In many ways they are a living system, like a conscious Furby; they get hungry, you feed them and they are happy again. They cannot speak to you or understand what you are saying, so there are no chances of social faux pas’ or miscommunication. When an individual with autism may struggle to make friends, and find themselves socially isolated because of their social and communication impairments, a pet can provide unconditional companionship. I believe the relationship between man and animal goes beyond this companionship, and that for those with autism there is a special affinity which draws them to their pets on a much deeper level.’