Child Health And Development
How the Human-Animal Bond Can Help
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Research strongly indicates that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) benefit from interaction with animals.
Improved Social Behavior and Interaction
A review of current literature on the effectiveness of animal-assisted intervention (AAI) for children with ASD found AAI to be effective in:
- Increasing social functioning seen through
- Increased social awareness
- Increased social interaction
- Decreased social isolation
- Increased social motivation
- Increased social skills and behaviors
- Increasing safety, independence and socio-emotional functioning
Another study found that in the presence of companion animals, children with ASD demonstrated:
- Increased display of social behaviors including talking, making physical contact and looking at faces.
- Improved positive social behaviors including becoming more receptive to social advances from peers.
ALLERGIES AND IMMUNITY
Scientific research has demonstrated the positive impact of early exposure to pets on the development of allergies and asthma later in life.
- In a study of lifetime dog and cat exposure and sensitization, teenagers who lived with a cat during the first year of their life had a 48% lower risk of cat allergy than their peers.
- Overall, teens with an indoor cat in the first year of life had a decreased risk of being sensitized to cats.
Strengthening the Immune System
- Prenatal exposure to dogs can influence immune development and thereby attenuate the development of atopy (the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases) in at-risk children
The hygiene hypothesis states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms (such as the gut flora or probiotics), and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of the immune system.
Research is demonstrating the positive influence of pets and animal therapy on a child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.
Reading & Cognition
A classroom pet has been found to be a motivating factor for children as an important mode of action in improving reading performance, and:
- Children in studies have reported liking the animal and enjoying reading to him/her, increasing their motivation to read
- Animals are natural incentives that encourage children to read
- Companion animals are great listeners & help relieve stress
- Dogs are not judgmental, they do not laugh, criticize and allow children to read at their own pace
- Dogs can reduce stress reactions of children performing a stressful task
Emotional Development & Social Skills
- The presence of a dog in a classroom fosters development of autonomous functioning and a better segregation of self/non-self, which is the foundation of sensitivity towards the needs and moods of other people
- Studies have found that classroom pets lead to higher social integration, fewer aggressive children
- Classroom pets also improve students’ attitudes toward school, facilitated students’ learning lessons in responsibility, respect and empathy
- Dogs aren’t the only type of effective classroom pet.
- Guinea pigs have also been found to be a feasible, positive addition to the primary classroom to improve social functioning.
"Anecdotally, we know that incorporating pets in the classroom teaches life lessons of empathy and responsibility and helps shape students’ lives for years to come. This study will further advance the scientific data behind the benefits of the program to help it expand its reach so that more and more children can experience the benefits of the human-animal bond." – Steve King, Executive Director of the Pet Care Trust and President of the Pet Industry Distributors Association
Berry, Alessandra, et al. "Use of assistance and therapy dogs for children with autism spectrum disorders: A critical review of the current evidence." The journal of alternative and complementary medicine 19.2 (2013): 73-80.