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Medicat: Benefits of Having A Cat As Aid For Children With Autism

Posted 2020-09-23

Much has been written about the mental and physical benefits associated with dog ownership for children with special needs – and in particular, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But the benefits associated with having a cat as a companion have – until now – remained largely unexplored.

However, studies now show that a cat that can be cuddled, petted, and nurtured can provide significant therapeutic companionship for children on the spectrum. Several benefits were noted throughout these studies, including a significant increase in the prosocial behavior displayed by autistic children. Here are the benefits of having a cat as aid for children with autism.

benefits-of-having-a-cat-as-aid-for-children-with-autism-kid-playing-with-cat

Cats Vs Dogs

Having a service dog as a companion has proved highly effective in many cases of autism in children. Not only does it take a great deal of social focus off the child, but service dogs are also especially valuable in ensuring overall safety. This brings about a great deal of relief for the family.

The downside, however, is that although dogs have a greater capacity to perform tasks, interact with others, and ensure physical safety by keeping the child from bolting or running away, they require a lot more care and attention, than their feline companions.

In many cases, cats rather than canine companions have been found to be a better fit from a practical standpoint. For one, cats don’t require being taken outdoors to exercise and are far lower energy than most dogs. They also need less space, can be kept indoors at all times, and tend to need fewer toys and stimulation. This makes caring for them a more practical option, especially for a busy family.

benefits-of-having-a-cat-as-aid-for-children-with-autism-boy-with-cat

Breed Plays A Role

It’s important to note that not all cats are equally suitable companions for children on the autism spectrum. Some breeds like Persian, Abyssinian, Burmese and Ragdoll are much more affectionate and long-suffering than others. Since these purebred cats are genetically predisposed to be affectionate companions, they tend to fit in better and be more suited to the role.

They are generally affectionate, responsive, non-aggressive, and not prone towards acting up or retaliating when in an uncomfortable physical situation. They are also calmer than Maine Coons or Siamese and are quite happy to spend hours cuddling.

benefits-of-having-a-cat-as-aid-for-children-with-autism

The Benefits of Companion Cats

Since ASD often results in problems with social development and communication, cats offer several benefits to a child on the spectrum.

These may include:

  • Feeling less pressure to interact with people as they can interact with their cat instead. This makes them feel less isolated and lonely.
  • Caring for a cat teaches the child about the value of showing empathy and showing positive emotions – and again, in a low-pressure environment and dynamic.
  • Nurturing a cat teaches the child certain core functions and values of interpersonal interaction with human members of the family. This is typically a natural outflow resulting from the family taking joint responsibility for caring for the cat.
  • A sense of responsibility and accountability is fostered as the child feels connected to a pet that needs them. This can be developed further by allowing the child to feed the cat and always ensure they have fresh water.

benefits-of-having-a-cat-as-aid-for-children-with-autism-child-with-cat

Decreased Anxiety – A Biggie

It’s a well-studied fact that parents of children on the autism spectrum tend to experience a great deal more stress than those without an intellectual disability. Since stress and anxiety are typically infectious ‘snowball’ emotions, meaning that stress in one person often creates stress and/or anxiety in another, it’s important not only to manage the autistic child’s experience but also that of the parents.

Since cats are particularly good at increasing social interaction and reducing stress and anxiety, research has found that having a cat as a companion isn’t only helpful in providing comfort to the autistic child. It also provides the same comfort and support to the parent.

Interesting to note too is that caring for more than one cat doesn’t seem to make too much of a difference to the parents. Cats are far less needy than dogs, and whether there’s one, two or more, they need minimal attention. They tend to be quite happy to be left alone for hours at a time too and will curl up on their bed and not make any noise or cause any separation-induced destruction.

benefits-of-having-a-cat-as-aid-for-children-with-autism-girl-with-cat

A Great Topic For Conversation

To an autistic child, making small talk is immensely difficult. Even establishing what others want to talk about can be like scaling a mountain.

Performing a simple task such as initializing a dialogue with a parent, sibling, close family member, or regular caretaker can fall completely outside an autistic child’s self-perceived response limits. And needless to say, since nobody wants to spend all day focusing on a single topic, even prompts necessary for a change of subject can pose problems.

This is why it’s so interesting to note that cats can be a confident conversation starter for a child with ASD. Since the cat is a shared topic of conversation between the child and the parent, or the child and the caregiver, discussing the cat, it’s needed, and even it’s playtime requirements, can be an ever-evolving topic.

Not only will discussing the cat’s care requirements offer ongoing discussion points, but these may prove a valuable learning curve in showing care and nurture toward fellow human beings.

The science doesn’t lie, cats are great companions for children on the Autism spectrum. Not only do they provide companionship, but they can also foster a sense of responsibility and help the child connect with others in a way that was previously almost impossible. All in all, they are the purrfect choice for a family with different needs – and those without too!

This blog was written by one of our animal enthusiasts, Erin Merrill. 

Erin Merrill (guest blogger)
Editor in Chief
A 3011 Joy Lane,Los Angeles, California, 90017
P 626-539-0771
E erin@herekitty.co
W herekitty.com

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