Many studies have been done on the benefits of therapy and emotional support dogs for children with autism. A group of researchers wondered about the role of pet cats in helping children with autism. The findings of this study were published recently in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.
The results? Most parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) reported that a cat in the home was beneficial in calming and soothing the child, and even acting as the child’s protector or guardian. This was especially true for children with mild to moderate ASD.
Some parents reported that their normally non-verbal children would initiate speech when talking to the family cat. Others reported that kids who had an aversion to touch would feel comfortable when petting or holding the cat.
The researchers also found that the most successful and affectionate cat-child relationships occurred when the cat was adopted as a kitten rather than an adult.
The downside? Interactions between cats and children with ASD classified as “severe” could be less positive. Various factors can come into play in this situation, such as a child being fearful of animals or the cat becoming nervous around a child’s problem behaviors.
In most child-animal studies, research has shown that interactions between autistic children and pets such as cats, dogs, and guinea pigs are very beneficial.
In the case of cats, the authors recommend adopting a young kitten, making sure that it is well-socialized from an early age, and looking into cat breeds that have a reputation for being affectionate and outgoing.