Owning a dog may be beneficial for the mental health of adults having autism spectrum disorder

It’s a known fact that adult individuals who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tend to have mental health issues and be suicidal. According to a new study that has been published in Scientific Reports (Impact factor =4.38), individuals with ASD that adopt a dog show a significant amount of improvement in the mental aspect.

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During the research that Barcelos and his group (2021) led in the UK: 36 individuals that have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are between ages 18 and 74 and own a dog have been chosen. It has been detected that about 17% of the participants avoided committing suicide because of their dogs. Aside from that, the need of taking care of the dog or the affection that the dog gives, in other words, the overall existence of a dog has proven to have a positive effect on mental health.

Unfortunately, people with ASD are suffering from little or limited understanding from the public. Another case about the research being held in the ASD field is that they are mainly focused on children, even though autism is a life-long condition. It has been detected that people in the autism spectrum are more likely to suffer from other mental problems such as anxiety and depression, plus a higher rate of suicide.

According to the findings of researchers, we understand that participating in human-dog-related activities seems to have a positive outcome, and even if the dog is just present in the environment, it seems to be helping people in all aspects. Interactions such as playing with the dog or taking them for a walk have been shown to improve health. Some of the participants also mentioned that their dog specifically prevented them from committing suicide, which has been recorded as a critical value in research. But researchers have reported that aside from the positive effects, there is also a negative side that shows itself once a dog performs an unwanted behaviour, gets sick or has maintenance problems.

It gives the owners an incredible amount of accomplishment and pride if the dog is well-behaving and effectively trained. Owning a dog or participating in human-dog activities shows not only a positive effect but also a healing effect on social interactions and causes an increase in self-improvement in individuals with ASD.

Even though this study explains the basics of the idea, they have stated that with a more comprehensive study, the impact of dogs on human lives could be explained better.

Further reading: Barcelos, A.M., Kargas, N., Packham, C. et al. Understanding the impact of dog ownership on autistic adults: implications for mental health and suicide prevention. Sci Rep 11, 23655 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-02504-8

Edited on: 13 October 2022