Are Cats and Autistic Children a Good Match?

cats and autism

Cats are independent creatures, but they’re also good companions for people who are lonely. Researchers have found many health benefits associated with cat ownership. Although some cats are off and on with their show of emotions, studies show that having a cat for a pet can help lower blood pressure and improve some mental health issues. Love is a universal emotion that is associated with positive feelings. It can help tip the scales in an upbeat trajectory, but are cats and autistic children a good match? Here is what the research has to say about it.

Scientific Studies with cats and children on the Autism spectrum

Autism in children is diagnosed at many different levels. Some children are high functioning while others suffer from symptoms so severe that it impairs their ability to communicate, perform routine tasks, or make meaningful connections with others. Families of ASD kids may wonder if having a cat in the home is a good idea. Many families with children diagnosed with autism have family pets. Overall, most report that there is no problem between the cats and children. Although there hasn’t been a lot of studies conducted on the topic, there have been some. We turn to recent research on the topic to learn more about the connection between cats and kids with autism.

Frontiers in Veterinary Science reports that evidence suggests that children with ASD may benefit from the companionship of a cat. Studies involving families of children with ASD that also owned a cat provided information to assess the pros and cons for the children and the cat. Evidence collected suggests that in general, cats in homes with autistic kids show a moderate degree of affection toward children, however, they show less affection to kids with severe ASD than toward the children in the home developing at a standard pace. Few cats showed aggression toward kids with ASD. Those adopted as kittens showed more affection toward ASD kids than those who came into the home as adult cats. Children with ASD were monitored to assess their responses to family cats. Most children with ASD showed affection and interacted with the cats. The results from interactions between cats and the children were a calming effect for the children, with some of the cats taking on the role of guardian or protector of the child. At the end of the study, cats were found to have a positive effect on positive social behavior in children with ASD. Further studies suggest that the positive effects of cats for autistic kids are greater than having a dog for a pet. Cats are more independent than dogs, require less care, and are more compatible with ASD kids.

What are the benefits of matching ASD kids with cats?

Family members and research scientists observe many benefits when they match children with autism with pet house cats. Kids with varying degrees of autism generally exhibit trouble showing empathy and may suffer from acute separation anxiety. When they become stressed, the kids act out with behaviors that can sometimes be harmful to themselves or others. Parents coping with the struggles their children face, along with periodic outbursts find themselves stressed out, more so than parents of children without the disorder. Futurity Organization reports that families with cats as household pets benefit as a whole. Cats offer benefits for every member of the household including:

  • -A calming effect on kids with autism
  • -Lowered stress for parents and other family members
  • -Improved behaviors and responses for ASD kids
  • -Lower separation anxiety for children with autism

Multiple studies on human responses to cats support their benefit for helping all members of the family to feel more relaxed. The benefit for the children is also immense. Study results reveal cats help to lower the intensity of separation anxiety kids with autism experience. They also help these kids to feel greater empathy toward others. It’s not currently known how these things happen, but they’ve been evidenced in observable situations. We can use deductive reasoning to guess that the calming effects of cats spread throughout the entire family. When children with autism feel more relaxed, show improved social interactions, and have fewer outbursts, the parents also feel less stressed and happier. Cats may help to keep everyone in the family on a more even keel. People in families tend to feed off one another’s emotional energy. Sometimes our best efforts cannot contain negative emotions, fears, or frustrations, and they can quickly spread from child to parent, and vice versa. It appears that cats may serve as a buffer to help take the edge off of tension, and bring a sense of joy and happiness into everyone’s heart. Parents who observe their children exhibiting more positive behaviors feel relief and happiness. There is less to feel frustrated or worried about. If cats can bring more peace and joy into a home, they’ve done their job and earned their place as members of the family.

Why cats are exceptional companions

Scientists can only guess why cats are so good at making us feel better. There are a few possible explanations for the positive impacts on human health and wellness. Cats are capable of giving unconditional love. They don’t judge us as other people may. They like to give and receive love. Cats show affection by rubbing our legs and massaging our chests. Felines purr in a relaxing tone and can even put you to sleep. It’s nice to be nuzzled. Cats like to have their belly rubbed or to be scratched behind their ears, and they respond by nuzzling us and offering a loving touch that reaches us at deep levels. It’s affection and love that serve as a healing medicine on an emotional level that positively impacts physical health with a domino effect. Cats are ideal pets for autistic kids sensitive to noise or loud sounds. Cats are generally quieter than most other animals and they can help to soothe heightened sensory disorders in ASD kids. Research confirms that the children form strong and lasting bonds with their cats. Children with autism find comfort. Some children gain improved function.

Are all cats good options for children with autism?

Cats, like any other animal with a brain, have distinct personalities. All cats are individuals. Some of them may be better pets than others. There’s never a guarantee that a cat will like children. Nor do they all have a sweet and gentle nature. Some cats are mean and you cannot them with a child. You must always closely monitor interactions with animals and autistic children. Even the kindest animal may become frightened and bite or scratch. The bite of a cat can be dangerous. Sometimes they are lethal as they may introduce harmful bacteria into the bloodstream. It’s essential to match a cat that is compatible with your child.

How do you find the right cat for the job?

US News suggests adopting a shelter cat may be a solution. A recent study involving 11 families with autistic children placed shelter cats in the homes for 18 weeks. Researchers assessed the results. They found that most families decided to adopt the cats after the study. They did so because of the tremendous improvements they observed. Bullying, separation anxiety, and other negative behaviors decreased. Kids took on more responsibility and their behaviors improved after cats came to live in the homes. It’s worth noting that each cat and child received an assessment before the trial to find suitable matches in temperament.

Let your child and the cat choose one another

The best way to find a good match for kids with autism and a cat for adoption is to allow them to meet and spend time together. Kids and pets may form an instant connection that is observable. If neither the child nor the cat shows an interest in one another, move on to a different cat. Keep looking until there is a connection that you can see. In most cases, it’s best to adopt a young kitten free of trauma and has not been around long enough to develop a fear of humans or other behavioral disturbances. Kittens raised with families with children are easier to train. They’re more pliable and they can more easily learn the rules of the house. They learn which behaviors are acceptable and which are not faster. They will also form bonds easier with family members, including the kids. Some adult cats are already set in their ways. These cats may carry baggage that your family doesn’t need. Some adult cats may be matches, but you need vigilance to ensure that the new cat doesn’t have any violent tendencies or behavioral issues.

Why do children with autism respond better to cats?

News 18 shared a recent report from a study about autistic kids and cats, seeking to understand why cats are therapeutic for these kids. Most dogs are friendlier and seek to interact with humans while cats could often act like they don’t care, and seem aloof. Researchers noticed that dogs tend to overwhelm people with their direct approach that gets in your face. Cats are less obtrusive and they deduced that the less intrusive glance of cats makes them less threatening to a person who is sensitive to sound or to direct looks. Kids with autism may have trouble processing the directness of a dog, while the nonchalance of a cat is calming and even soothing. They noted that cats are less likely to make direct eye contact than dogs or humans. Some children with autism do not respond well to direct eye contact, and cats are more tolerable for their delicate senses. They’re non-threatening in demeanor. They do not overwhelm the children. It’s easy to understand why a cat could bring relief and pleasure to a child who deals with immense sensations of overload. Researchers also noted that kids with ASD spent more time interacting visually with cats than with dogs or other humans.

The bottom line about cats and kids with autism

Evidence points to cats as healthy and helpful pets for children on the autism spectrum, but what about the cats? Is the relationship healthy for them? A scientific study shows that the relationships between a cat and a child with autism are mutually beneficial. Both cats and kids benefit when rapport exists and when the personalities are compatible. The study looked at both sides of the relationship dynamic. Scientists found that cats enjoy the attention they receive from their relationship with the children as much as kids enjoy their company.

Final thoughts

The verdict is in on matching kids with autism with cats. Researchers identified many benefits of adopting a cat in families with autistic children. Cats have a soothing effect on all household members, interrupting negative dynamics and replacing them with positive and happier feelings. Scientists believe that there is value in the ways cats interact with ASD kids that puts them at ease and helps to ease the sensory overload that so many kids experience from the condition. Parents report that cats help the kids by calming and soothing them. Negative behaviors decrease. The children take on more responsibility for the pets. Parents feel calmer because of the improved behaviors and greater sense of harmony and happiness in the home. It’s a winning situation for the families and cats adopted. Cats benefit as much as the families, as they gain a happy home with people that give them love and protection. Cats are excellent companions for autistic children, offering more benefits than dogs. If you’re looking for a pet to adopt, we recommend contacting your local animal shelter. They can assist in starting a matching process. Staff can help you find a kitten or adult cat that matches your child’s personality.

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