They call them man's best friend for a reason. Pets have soothing, almost therapeutic qualities — especially for children with special needs. Here are six reasons why you should consider pairing your little one with a four-legged friend:
1. Pets Increase Empathy
Once your child has a pet in their charge, you might see a swell of empathy within them. Bonding with a pet inspires this surge of compassion, and if this is something your son or daughter struggles with, then an animal could be the solution. Plus, once your child has forged a bond with their buddy, they might have an easier time connecting with you, as well as other children and animals.
Compassion is one of the main reasons why families benefit from pets in the first place. Along with that, your child will likely pick up a sense of responsibility for their new dog, cat, fish or hamster. That sense of care only comes once your little one feels love for their new pet — and that sentiment may be what your child needs to develop.
2. Pets Boost Interaction and Connection
If you've had a pet before, you know that it's normal to speak to them as if they are an actual human being. These little conversations will help a special-needs child improve their conversational and communication skills. Children with pets tend to interact with them verbally for more extended periods than with other people or toys.
Your son or daughter might have trouble making friendships or connections with others, but that's typically not the case with special-needs children who have pets. They quickly bond with their feline, canine, reptilian or avian friend. Kids learn to share a space with their chosen creature, and they learn about boundaries when their pet doesn't want to be bothered.
3. Pets Decrease Stress
Another great reason to bring a pet into your child's life is that having an animal in the family can reduce stress. According to the National Institutes of Health, cortisol — a stress-related hormone — decreases when a child has an animal companion. Their blood pressure goes down, too, which is also a sign that tension is fading.
There are more specific examples, too. According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, fish tanks have calming effects so strong they can soothe children with behavioral or emotional disabilities. Merely looking at the underwater environment reduces anxiety, heart rate and blood pressure, so fish could be a great option for a child who isn't yet ready to care for a bigger pet.
4. Pets Enhance a Child's Learning
The link between these two areas is unclear, but it may be that learning to care for a pet helps improve picking up further skills. A few things are for sure, though — owning a pet is motivating to a kid, and it also inspires them to complete tasks with more haste than before. Plus, children who have pets tend to listen and concentrate better, two skills that are vital to their learning and comprehension in school and beyond.
5. Pets Make Us Happy
Whether you're young or old, having a pet will put a smile on your face. One of the noted health benefits of pet ownership is the fact that a cat, dog or other animal companion can quickly boost a person's mood. For some people, it's a matter of being needed — pets give us a sense that we have worth and meaning. Plus, they make us feel less lonely and happier in general, both of which contribute to a more positive overall mood.
6. Pets Break the Ice
We've already touched on the benefits that a pet has in terms of a child's social skills. Pets help special-needs children build bonds and connect with other kids over their love of animals — or their actual pet.
This is especially true for autistic kids who can bring their therapy animals with them to school or another social environment. According to the director of Purdue's Center for the Human-Animal Bond, "animals change the classroom environment and help to integrate those who are a little less typical. Once the children get involved with animals, they view each other more positively and work better together." For a child who has trouble breaking the ice on their own, this can be a big help — and a significant weight of their shoulders.
Wagging Tails and Happy Faces
Clearly, having a pet can make a big difference in the life of a special-needs child and, as a parent, you want nothing more than that. Now, all you have left to do is choose the right kind of animal to join your family and change the life of your little one. The perfect furry or feathered companion can indeed work wonders.