Whether they're of the slobbering, chirping or purring variety, pets offer a form of unconditional attention and affection. And for children with autism, a relationship with an animal can be especially powerful.
"Kids with autism don't always readily engage with others, but if there's a pet in the home that the child is bonded with and a visitor starts asking about the pet, the child may be more likely to respond," said Gretchen Carlisle, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, in a statement.
Carlisle recently collected observational evidence that suggests pets may act as a sort of "social lubricant," meaning that an animal companion won't only play with and comfort a child with autism, but he'll help that child interact with other kids as well. She said her data, taken from surveys of 70 families with children on the autism spectrum, indicate that having any type of pet - including cats, fish, birds and, in one instance, a spider - can be a boon.