Pets are stress-relievers for parents of children with autism and benefit their kids, too, a new study suggests.
On average, parents of kids with autism have higher stress levels than other moms and dads, the study authors said, so some look to pets to help them relax.
For the study, the researchers surveyed more than 700 families who have a family member with autism about the benefits and drawbacks of having a dog or cat.
Despite the responsibility of caring for a pet, parents and kids with autism had strong bonds with their pets. Pet ownership didn't increase parents' stress, and those with multiple pets reported more benefits, according to the study published recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
"Given that the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder are so broad, it can be difficult to identify interventions that are widely beneficial," said study author Gretchen Carlisle of the University of Missouri Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in Columbia.
"Some of the core challenges that children with autism face include anxiety and difficulty communicating," she said in a university news release.
"As pets can help increase social interaction and decrease anxiety, we found that they are not only helpful in providing comfort and support to children with autism, but to their parents as well," Carlisle said.
Parents who are considering adding a pet to their family should include the child in the decision and make sure the pet's and child's activity levels are a good match, Carlisle advised.
"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.