Pet Ownership Linked to Better Mental Health Outcomes in Adults with Autism

November 14, 2022

New Research Shows Pets Help Manage Mood and Socializing for Those on the Spectrum

British researchers have recently released a mixed-methods study investigating companion animal attachment for adults with autism. This research involved 735 adults, 326 of whom had autism. Study participants completed questionnaires that evaluated their social behaviors, autistic traits, and other factors. Pet owner participants also answered several questions regarding their companion animal. Additionally, these participants were assessed on their attachment level to their pet and how much they attributed human characteristics to them. After analyzing the data, the authors found that pet ownership leads to better mental health outcomes, a higher quality of life, and less anxiety for adults on the spectrum. Surprisingly, these benefits occurred no matter which type of companion animal the adult had. Dogs, cats, rats, and even fish all had similar effects. Individuals with autism were more likely to have an animal other than a dog. They were also more likely to substitute their pet for a person or attribute human characteristics to the animal. Further into the research, the authors conducted more extensive interviews with 16 autistic pet owners. Interestingly, these owners reported that their pet motivated them to be more active and helped them deal with stress. They also said they felt safer and more natural socializing with others when their pet was around. One study participant stated, “All the situations that make people with autism uncomfortable don’t exist with animals, they’re gone. No awkward conversation, no unpredictable events, and it’s an easy environment.” On a sad note, the study identified many barriers to pet ownership for adults on the spectrum. These include housing limitations, cost, and the ability to care for an animal. The authors hope these constraints can be overcome since many of the study’s participants experienced huge breakthroughs from pet ownership that even helped them break out of unhealthy routines. Ultimately, the authors say their main finding is that despite worries that individuals with autism can’t look after animals, they are more than capable of doing so and realize tremendous benefits from the experience. 

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