Pet Ownership and the Benefits to Special Needs Kids

benefits to having a petWe have known for some time that pets can alleviate stress in individuals. Just the presence of an animal can be soothing and anxiety reducing. Pets have been used to boost both the mental and physical health of individuals in hospitals, prisons, and senior care homes.

Benefits to Having a Pet
Children with special needs, such as ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, anxiety, or bipolar, can receive numerous benefits from having a pet.

  • Pets provide unconditional love and affection. They are fairly predictable and do not engage in the many human activities that generates stress, such as arguing or exhibiting contradictory behavior. The reliability of a pet can bring comfort to a child who sees his day as quite inconsistent and hectic. A pet can generate a calming effect that in turn can reduce your child’s stress.
  • Feeding and caring for a pet allows your child to shift his focus from his own life to his pet’s needs. He can receive a sense of satisfaction and competence from learning how to care for his new pet and having this pet depend on him. A child’s confidence and self-esteem can increase as she acquires new skills and becomes successful in caring for her pet.

Certain pets can help your child to get outside and be more social. A dog needs to be walked and even trained. Walking a dog provides a child with the opportunity to have others comment on the animal, thus opening up conversation on a topic that your child may love to share. You can check with your local community center for possible dog training classes or ask your neighborhood pet stores for information. If nothing else, your child will get away from the TV and electronic games and gain some exercise by walking her dog.

Ideas for Pet Ownership

  1. The Autism Service Dogs of America (ASDA) provides trained dogs to children with autism. Parents have found that having a service dog accompany their child to school aided in their child’s social interaction and eased transitions within the school day. When out in public, parents are more comfortable knowing that their child’s service dog is side-by-side keeping an eye on their child and helping him to avoid dangerous situations.
  2. A Rinty for Kids Foundation (ARFkids) helps special needs children nationwide by selecting an appropriate puppy for their family that will then be trained to be a pet-assisted therapy dog. ARFkids guides the family through training the puppy to prepare him for service. Trainers and ARFkids families are available online for support and questions. A donation is required in order to receive a puppy and the training.
  3. Encourage your child to learn about his pet as much as possible. Fun Times Guide to Dogs offers a lot of tips on training and the overall caring for a dog. There are articles describing how to potty train a dog and teach him to fetch, as well as how to control ticks and fleas and walk him.
  1. Your child will probably need help to determine his pet responsibilities and to remember to complete the tasks. A chart listing his chores would be helpful. Free Printable Behavior Charts provides free pet care charts. Charts are available for not only the obvious cat and dog owners, but also for owners of geckos, toads and ferrets. Daily responsibilities are listed down one side of the chart with the days of the week across the top.
  2. There are a number of guides written by a vet for the first time pet owner. These guides contain practical information on caring for the pet on a daily basis, as well as the commitment required of pet ownership. You will find things such as how to choose a pet, how to get ready, vet visits, health care, and feeding.

- Birds Pet Care Guide for Kids
Fish Pet Care Guide for Kids
Guinea Pigs Pet Care Guide for Kids
Hamster Pet Care Guide for Kids
Kitten Pet Care Guide for Kids
Puppy Pet Care Guide for Kids
Rabbit Pet Care Guide for Kids

Before you run out and buy a pet, discuss the options with your child taking into consideration your lifestyle. A pet requires work, responsibility, and money. Consider where you live and how much time your child has to devote to a pet. Cats and dogs are the first obvious choice, but there are many other options. There are birds, rabbits, and hamsters. Smaller animals requiring much less care include fish, turtles, and snakes. There are many types of pets and the important thing is for you to give this much consideration before making a decision. A pet is a commitment for the lifetime of the animal.

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Danette Schott, M.A. About Danette Schott, M.A.

Using her research background, Danette founded S-O-S Research to provide information on "invisible" special needs to parents, teachers, and other professionals. Currently she is Executive Editor at Special-Ism, focusing on the challenges or the -Isms experienced by children with various special needs, such as high functioning autism, ADHD, anxiety, mental illness, and Sensory Processing Disorder.

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  • Donahue

    Great site for special needs children. I have been looking at how regular kids do with their first pet (as my website above says), but you are right, there is a special level of care that needs to be considered for an autisic child’s pet. Both on the child’s part as well as the pet’s part. My good friend Craig has an Autistic son, and a (regular? normal? how who you say it?) daughter. They had to find pets that work for both, but did very well with dogs.

  • http:/// Danette

    Donahue, thanks for the comments. Your website looks like a good resource for families considering a pet. I love the lion!

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  • Terrier

    It’s very exiting to find this web site. I don’t have much to add to the conversation, but I’m right there with you. This post said exactly what I have been thinking. Good to see you posting.

  • Amiel Sac

    Indeed, shifting focus from oneself to another really liberates one from insecurity and in their case, from having reasons to throw tantrums and such. Thanks for this very informative post.

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  • casey

    I have to agree that having a pet could provide healthy benefits. I also checked free pet care charts, which reminds me that I have to walk my dog. I haven’t tried a dog party but Animal Wow has some ideas on how to throw a party.

  • Dave

    Pets are supposed to REDUCE stress? Well, that certainly isn’t this case between my father and the neighbors dogs. xD

  • http:/// Danette

    Dave, maybe your dad should try a cat! :)

  • Minisite Design

    Yes, I solely agree with you that pets provide us with unconditional love and affection. This is the type of information that I am looking for. Thank you so much for sharing this post. Minisite Design

  • Poppy – Pregnancy Miracle

    I think if you are considering a child’s first pet, it’s a good idea to start off small – hamsters, maybe a rabbit. Forget that, start with a low maintenance fish, and work up from there!

    Animals certainly can have a soothing effect on human’s health and wellbeing – when they are house trained…

  • Jolina

    I certainly believe that animal companions are the best in the world. They love you unconditionally, even when you feel you have no one else to turn to. During a period of depression I experienced from a break up, I felt that my cat was the only there to comfort me.

  • Sue – Urticaria Remedy

    “Feeding and caring for a pet allows a child to shift his focus from his own life to his pet’s needs.”

    This is a great “soft skills” learning experience for all children, not just those with special needs!

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  • Bethany Sheldahl

    Great article!

  • Danette

    Thanks, Bethany. I’m glad you liked it!

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