Of all the areas of the human-animal bond currently being explored, one of the most well-researched is the impact animals can have on children with autism. Pets have the uncanny ability to reach children with developmental issues and lure them out of their shells.

Researcher Maggie O’Haire discovered in her study of autistic children and animals that the children would smile, laugh, and talk more when animals were present in the room with them. She also observed that the children looked at other people more and came into more frequent physical contact with those around them, such as giving a high-five or allowing their knees to touch the person next to them — “things children with autism often shy away from,” she said.

One beautiful example of the impact a pet can have on an autistic child and her family is the story of Jade and her adopted cat Trubs. Jade has always been a fun-loving, playful girl, but because of her autism, she has a sensitivity to things in her environment. She struggled to get along with other kids, and the roughest part of her day was bedtime. At night, all of her senses would kick into overdrive and Jade would be overwhelmed. Sensitivity to light, temperature, and loud sounds would send her into a frenetic state.

One day Jade said she wanted to pet some kitties, so she and her mom Jessica went to visit a local animal shelter. There, they discovered a cat named “Double Trouble” hiding under a blanket. He had been in the shelter for five years and suffered from a viral disease that required him to get regular IV treatments. He looked miserable and alone.

Jade pet and talked to him, and when she got up to leave, Double Trouble followed her. She sat down, and he went straight to her lap and started purring. The shelter director burst into tears, saying she had never seen the cat be sociable with anyone before. Jade and her mom adopted Double Trouble, brought him home, and named him Trubs.

That night, Jade had a particularly rough episode before bedtime and her mother couldn’t do anything to calm her. She was inconsolable until Trubs came into the room, hopped up on her bed, and began kneading her chest. Jade smiled, and she fell right to sleep. Every night after that, it became a routine and Trubs would wait for her in her bedroom to put her to bed.

From there, Jade’s confidence blossomed and she thrived at school. Her mom Jessica reported that she became a totally different kid, and nothing really bothered her much anymore, saying “Adopting this little cat that no one wanted was the best decision we ever made.”

Thanks to their ability to develop strong connections with children — even those who are developmentally or emotionally distant and inaccessible — rescue pets have the capacity to help contribute to a stronger, more resilient, more empathetic and engaged generation of young people. In a concrete, meaningful way, the homeless animals awaiting adoption across the country and around the world have the potential to make a positive, lasting impact on the future.

Author's Bio: 

Carol Novello is the founder of Mutual Rescue™ and author of “Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too” (Grand Central Publishing, April 2019). Mutual Rescue is a national initiative that highlights the connection between people and pets in order to inspire and support life-saving efforts in communities across the nation and world. Mutual Rescue’s first short film, “Eric & Peety,” went viral around the globe and has been viewed more than 100 million times. For more information, visit www.MutualRescue.org.