How Dogs Can Help People with Autism

By Julie Butcher- Head of Marketing at Webbox (www.webbox.co.uk)

Dogs are wonderful animals. They’re incredibly loyal, loving, and make great companions too. And these fantastic animals can also be great support for both adults and children with autism. They can be good for people with the condition in a number of ways, including by providing routine, being a calming influence, and more. Plus, adopting a dog can be great for the whole family!

To explain more about how dogs can help people with autism in their daily routine, the pet care experts Webbox are here to tell us more.

Sensory support
People with autism can struggle a lot with sensory processing. For some, processing different sensory messages can be incredibly overwhelming, which is known as hypersensitivity. Many others experience hyposensitivity, which means that they have an abnormally decreased sensitivity to sensory stimuli. And some of those with autism can experience both of these extremes for different senses.

There are a number of ways to handle difficulty in sensory processing, including by fidgeting, finding a quiet place to relax, or getting the right therapy. But one way to ease the discomfort which you may not have previously considered is to turn to your furry friend for support. Dogs can provide sensory stimulation through games, such as fetch or tug of war. The animals can also be helpful for stimming (self-stimulating behaviour) as they enjoy being touched and played with. For someone looking for repetitive movement, they may find comfort in petting their dog.

A calming influence
It’s relatively common for autistic people to also experience stress and anxiety. In fact, a study by the National Autistic Society and Mind has found that 94% of people with autism experience anxiety, and almost half of these people fall into the severe anxiety category. Autistic people are more likely to experience stress and anxiety for a number of reasons, including sensory processing difficulties and unexpected changes to routines.

It’s important for people with autism to find ways to relax and recharge during particularly stressful moments. The good news is that dogs can help them with this. Research has found that petting dogs even for just 10 minutes can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Pet owners also tend to have lower blood pressure and resting heart rates than the rest of the population, which is great for both mental and physical health (Pure Wow).

Provides routine
If you have a dog, you’ll know that they thrive on routine and like predictability, so it’s a good idea to feed them and walk them at the same time each day. Dogs can’t tell the time like humans, so they use our routine to predict what happens next. As well as being a great way to alleviate anxiety in dogs, it can also help them with training too.

Routine is also important for people with autism, which is why dogs can make a great addition to their lives. Having a daily timetable allows autistic people to predict what’s coming next, which alleviates their anxiety and mentally prepares them for the day ahead. So if you or a family member have autism and you have a dog, both will benefit from having a stable routine.

Conversation starters
It’s common for neurodivergent people to find making friends challenging. It can be difficult for autistic people to understand body language, facial expressions, and social cues, which can make the thought of finding new friends anxiety-inducing. However, friends are important for all of us, not just for preventing loneliness and isolation, but to help us expand our worldview and consider things from other people’s perspectives.

The good news is that dogs can make it easier for people with autism to make friends. Dogs act as a conversation starter, and having the dog at your side can make you feel calmer and even boost your confidence to help you socialise more. If there is a dog-walking group in the local area, this can be great for autistic people too as they can both make friends in the group and fit it into their daily or weekly routine.

Companionship
There’s a reason that they say “a dog is a man’s best friend”. These animals are loving, loyal, and will always be there for their owners. They don’t talk back, judge, or question why you’re doing something a certain way — they’re just happy to be in your company. When you’ve had a difficult day, or you’re struggling with your human relationships, spending time with your dog can really boost your mood and make you feel less lonely.

“Dogs are fantastic pets for so many people, but they’re especially good for people with autism. As well as being companions and friends in themselves, they can even help people make friends too by giving them the confidence they need in anxiety-inducing situations. And when sensory processing issues become too much, spending time with your dog is a great way to both calm down and stim by petting them or playing a fun game.

“Dogs tend to love routine just as much as autistic people do. So to help the both of you thrive, wake up and walk at the same time everyday, and make sure to have a regular feeding and treat schedule too.”

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