Pets help kids with special needs

Researchers surveyed 70 parents of children ages 8 to 18 with autism. They found that having any kind of pet at home may increase a child’s assertiveness in social situations and their ability to make introductions and ask questions. Carlisle, the study’s author, says parents linked dog ownership to responsibility, companionship and stress relief.

Sensory issues are key when selecting a pet for an autistic child, says Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University who is renowned for her work in creating humane conditions for livestock.

Pets can help children with a wide range of conditions and disabilities. At a small ranch in Lakewood, Colorado, Linda Chassman, co-founder and executive director of Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado, is finding creative ways for clients to learn from animals.

“Pets can help children deal with their frustrations,” Chassman says. “Pets can be frustrating, and sometimes therapy involves a frustrating animal, and so they learn to cope.”

Chassman has a menagerie of animals used to help kids cope. The dogs are therapy dogs, not service animals, which are working dogs, not pets, that are specially trained to perform tasks to help handlers with a disability.

Her other animal assistants — a cat, rats, horses, goats and rabbits — have no special training. They offer comfort and affection through qualities like playfulness, soft fur, a relaxing purr.

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