Being a parent of an autistic child can be like walking a tightrope. Every decision you make has the potential to carry a catastrophic result. Parents have to choose wisely so their children will get the best chance at having a quality of life that will give them the best future.
So, unlike other children, when your autistic child asks for a pet, there are many things to think about. No doubt, many questions start running through your mind.
- Should I get him a pet?
- How will he handle the responsibility?
- What pet will be able to live with his uniqueness?
- How can I help him make the adjustments?
What is the best pet for an autistic child?
There are a few things that you must consider before making your choice. Where your child lies on the autism spectrum, his unique personality, and how well he interacts with others in his immediate environment.
Before You Make a Decision
There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Like everyone else in the world, the best pet for an autistic child is not the same for everyone. Spend some time observing your child around other people’s pets. Take your time and introduce him to several different types of animals and notice his behavior.
If your child has aggressive tendencies when around animals (pulling tails, grabbing hair, squeezing too hard), you might not want to start him off with a young or small animal like gerbils, hamsters, or small puppies. These will probably not survive the connection for very long.
Avoid getting young animals that lack the maturity to handle your child’s impulses. Instead, consider getting an older puppy or even an adult dog or cat. Younger animals do not naturally bite or scratch, but if you’re too rough with them from the start, they may feel like it is their only way to defend themselves, and chances are your child will be the first victim.
As a rule, rabbits are very gentle but intelligent enough to take mild aggressive behaviors for short periods. You might even want to consider introducing your child to pets a little at a time. Start with getting an aquarium and a few fish. For some autistic children, these can be very relaxing and allow the child to adjust to new responsibilities without overwhelming them. It may be just the ticket for your household.
For Dog Lovers
There is no doubt that one of the most popular pets in any household is dogs. These are naturally the go-to pet for many reasons, including the powerful bond they can develop with their owners and the added security level they can provide. What parent doesn’t think of their child’s safety when it comes to choosing a pet.
However, not all dog breeds will respond in the same way to your autistic child. Some breeds are much more capable of adapting to unique behaviors than others. After considering all your options for good pets for an autistic child, you decide to go with a dog; here is a list of good breeds to choose from.
- Golden Retriever: This breed makes the top of our list for several reasons. Their personality is usually very outgoing and friendly, and they have an inherent need to please you. They are not only patient and loving, but their manner is quite gentle. Because of this unique combination of personality traits, they are easy to train, making them a perfect companion for a child with autism.
- Saint Bernard: If your child does demonstrate even mild aggressive tendencies, you want to get a dog that can take the abuse in stride, and there is none better than a Saint Bernard. Despite their enormous size, these dogs are surprisingly gentle. They tend to be stubborn at times but will usually relent when it is for the welfare of their owner. This breed is so loyal that they have often been used as therapy dogs for all sorts of special needs children. If your autistic child is rough with dogs, this could be the ideal solution.
- Labradoodle: This breed is an excellent cross between a Labrador, which is gentle by nature, and a poodle. Because they don’t shed like many other dogs, there is less clean-up for you. While this may not be a factor for your autistic child, it is undoubtedly a plus for most households. They are very playful and can be found in a wide range of sizes, so even if you live in a small space, you can find one that is just the right size for your household.
- Collie: Anyone who has watched any of the Lassie series knows how loyal and dedicated a collie can be. These dogs are eager to please and easy to train. They are mild-mannered and work very well with children of all different temperaments. These dogs are a popular choice because they are keenly aware of human emotions, so they will be able to sense what your child needs before he knows it himself.
For Cat Lovers
Like dogs, cats can be great companions for children with special needs. Just the act of holding one close to you can produce amazing therapeutic benefits for any child with autism, no matter where they fall on the spectrum.
According to one study, parents reported that cats provided an immediate calming effect on their children. A common belief among many who are not familiar with cats is that they are not as affectionate as dogs, but this is not the case for those with autism. Cats who live with even severe cases of ASD tended to be more affectionate rather than less.
That said, it is clear that not all cat breeds will work well with your child. Some cats do not respond well to constant handling, which could mean trouble for you and your child. Below is a few recommended breeds that may work well with your child’s unique needs,
- Birman: This breed is easy to train. If you adopt one at a very young age, you can even teach them to walk on a lead if you want. Because they are so loyal, you won’t have to worry about them running off or hiding when your child wants to play.
That said, if you have an overly active child, this may not be a good fit. The Birman is a quiet cat that will stick by your child’s side while he works through his schoolwork or practice his reading. They are very effective at calming excited children and less inclined to be a part of a game.
- Maine Coon: These are not only beautiful cats; they are extremely intelligent as well. They are amiable enough to be trained quickly and are very gentle. Because of their larger size, their bodies can endure a little rough treatment, so you won’t have to worry much if your child gets overly excited with them. They enjoy playing games which opens up lots of possibilities for your child to connect.
However, because of their long fur, they will need regular grooming and daily care. Teaching your child to handle these needs provides an excellent opportunity to connect emotionally with them. The grooming process offers a routine that autistic children can adapt to very well.
- Abyssinian: Not only is this a gorgeous cat that comes with the elegance and style of ancient Egypt, but they are also very active and fun to play with. As a rule, they respond very well to children and their antics. Because of their insatiable curiosity, they will enjoy working with your child on puzzle toys and games, and their high energy level means they will expect a lot of attention.
However, this cat needs a child with a high energy level to keep him interested and engaged in regular activities.
- American Curl: This lovely cat has a natural curl that makes them stand out from any other cat. They are very playful and intelligent enough to engage well in challenging games. They make for a loyal friend who will bond quickly and easily with your child, helping them create an unbreakable bond. However, they don’t do well if they are left alone for long periods. They need constant interaction.
How to Decide on The Best Pet For Your Autistic Child
While deciding what dog is the best pet for an autistic child, it helps to consider what animals, especially dogs and cats, bring to the relationship.
- They teach compassion and empathy
- Help to relieve anxiety and stress
- Teach your child how to make connections and build relationships
- Help your child to suppress autism symptoms and gain better control
- Provide trust and loyalty
Regardless of where your child lands on the autism spectrum, choosing the right pet can be the solution to many challenges parents find while navigating the world of autism. Make sure you consider your child’s personality and how he will interact. Then test the waters first, to make sure you have found the best match.