Some autistic people report feeling more strongly connected to animals than to other people, but a new study suggests that introducing companion animals to autistic children at the right time in life may help with human bonding, too.
French researchers studied 40 children with autism and their families, examining whether the family had a pet and, if so, when the animal was acquired, and whether the presence or absence of a pet had any influence on the autistic child’s ability to bond. Most households with pets had either dogs or cats, but one family kept a rabbit, and another a hamster.
It appeared that having a pet at all didn’t matter as much as when the pet was introduced to the home. Autistic children who grew up with a pet from birth appeared to be no different from those living in households without pets, but children who received a pet at age 4 or 5 showed major improvement in two social skills that are not only difficult for autistic people, but are also critical in sustaining human relationships: sharing with others and comforting people in distress.