Autism – How The Human-Animal Bond Can Help

By July 11, 2016 Uncategorized


Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a developmental disability that can cause social, communicative and behavioral challenges that first appear in childhood but continue throughout adulthood.

The term “spectrum” refers to a range of symptoms. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has now defined ASD as “a single disorder that includes disorders that were previously considered separate that affect a person’s social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and motor coordination issues.”



One study, published by the University of Queensland in Australia, demonstrated that when present, animals help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD):

– interact better along with demonstrating increased positive social behaviors
– display more social behaviors such as talking, making physical contact and looking at faces
– become more receptive to social advances from their peers
– laugh and smile more and also reduce behaviors such as frowning, whining and crying

Source: University of Queensland in Australia by Marguerite E O’Haire, and subsequently published in the journal PLOS ONE, an open access peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS)


In an interview published on the Autism Speaks website, Dr. Gretchen Carlisle, a researcher at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, stated, “Children with autism may especially benefit from interacting with a dog, which can provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and companionship.”

Although her study addressed dog ownership, she emphasized that other pets may be better suited for particular children and families. A wide range of animal assisted therapies are available nationwide and include programs that offer interaction with horses and small animals.

Another study, published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing in 2013, surveyed parents of children who had autism about the children’s interactions with dogs.

Nearly two thirds of the families owned a dog
Of these, 94 percent said their child bonded strongly with the pet
Even in the families without dogs, 7 in 10 parents said their child enjoyed interacting with dogs


Organizations like the North Star Foundation provide specialized therapy dogs for those with autism spectrum disorders.

There are a growing number of organizations that train and provide therapy dogs for autistic children. Specially trained autism therapy dogs are trained to have a calming effect on an autistic person who is subject to tantrums and emotional out bursts. Such dogs are also trained to recognize patterns of repetitive motion and know how to ‘interrupt’ them by distracting the child. They are also taught to bark to alert adults that a child may be wandering off.


According to the Autism Speaks, each individual with autism is unique. Many individuals who are considered to be “on the autism spectrum” have exceptional abilities in visual skills as well as music and academic skills. On the other end of the range, many autistic children and adults are non-verbal but are able to learn to communicate by means such as gestures and eye contact.


Statistics published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlight that around 1 in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum and that the disorder is 4 to 5 times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. ASD affects over 3 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide.


Typical signs of Autism in children as outlined on the website include:

– A failure to respond to his or her name
– A resistance to cuddling and holding and a preference to playing alone and retreating into his or her own world
– Poor eye contact and a lack of facial expression
– A lack of speech from being completely non-verbal to delayed speech, or a loss of a previous ability to say words or sentences
– Failure to start a conversation or keep one going
– Speech behavior that has an abnormal tone or rhythm such as a singsong voice or robot-like speech
– Repartition of words or phrases verbatim, without an understanding of how to use them
– Failure to understand simple questions or directions
– A lack of personal emotions or feelings and an apparent unawareness of others people’s feelings
– A failure to point at or bring objects to share interest
– Social interaction that is aggressive or disruptive
– Further behavioral patterns cited by the Mayo Clinic include, “repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping, or activities that could cause harm, such as head-banging. A fixation of a particular object or activity with abnormal intensity, and odd food preferences, such as eating only a few foods, or eating only foods with a certain texture.”

This information brought to you by HABRI (Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation)

Images provided by “Free Images”.

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