Animals a Better Gift Option than Toys for Kids with Autism
If you are going out for some last minute shopping, celebrate Christmas any day other than tomorrow or want something to add onto what you have already gotten for your autistic child, a furry little cuddly animal might just do the trick. Autism makes children picky about what they like to play with, activities they want to pick up and generally has them reacting very differently to the gifts presented during the holidays than most typically-developing children.
Buying gifts for Christmas is hard enough without adding autism to the mix. Parents should focus on autism-friendly presents which stimulate the senses, examples of which were offered in a previous article. For those around you, as well as your autistic children, a great book written by other autistic individuals might suffice as a great gift, even better when coupled with an amazing movie depicting life and how to conquer the obstacles one is faced with when living on the spectrum.
By far, however, the best gift this Christmas is an animal. Choose the animal according to your abilities, your space, the time you can give it. Choose it with care. An animal, however, has been found to help autistic children immensely.
Reasons you should own a pet
- It might cost you a lot of money, but owning a pet actually means you live longer, according to a study by the Minnesota Stroke Institute.
- Having a pet, particularly a dog, can lower blood pressure and the risk for heart disease.
- Pet owners have been found to be generally happier, healthier and with higher self-esteem.
- Owning a pet if you have a chronic illness has been found to help one manage life better and be able to better function in a given day.
How do pets help autistic children?
Presented in a paper published February 2013 in the PLOS One online journal, 99 children in classrooms within 4 schools were studied as they interacted with toys and animals. The children were divided up into groups of three, where one was on the spectrum and two were typically developing. Each group was given three 10-minute free play sessions with toys and a further three 10-minute sessions with two guinea pigs.
Participants with autism were found to demonstrate more social approach behaviors, such as talking, looking at faces, and making tactile contact, as well as displaying more pro-social behaviors including smiling and laughing, while also having less problems with self-focused behaviors and negative reactions, such as frowning, crying, and whining, in the presence of animals compared to toys. Their peers also approached them more often and communication levels were highly positive. Having the animals around also meant more expressions of joy from the ASD children, as well as chatter about positive things around them.
The typically developing children approached the autistic children more with a pet around, but, strange enough, talked more when they had toys to play with instead of the animals. However, when it comes down to the overall interactions with the ASD children, pets helped immensely. The presence of toys also had all the children more self-absorbed and playing on their own, while the pet made them other-oriented. Problem behaviors, however, were reduced in both cases.
Take home message
Buy a pet for your home. Whether you get a dog or a guinea pig, it makes no difference. Your autistic children will be happier, be able to communicate better and enjoy a positive outlook for longer periods of time. Makes for a great Christmas or holiday gift for individuals with autism, young or old.