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Children with Autism Prefer Cats as Pets because of their 'Less Intrusive Glance'

Image for representation. (Reuters)

Image for representation. (Reuters)

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States.

In the fight of cats vs dogs, the most common argument against cats is that they aren’t as affectionate as dogs. They are more aloof, indifferent and far less cuddle-loving than their canine counterparts. However, this may make the ideal pets for those who fall on the autism spectrum.

According to DailyMail, a recent study showed strong evidence of cats making better companions for kids with autism. “The “less intrusive glance” of cats, compared to the “long gazes” that dogs make, might align better with autistic children’s “social needs,” says Marine Grandgeorge at the University of Rennes in France.

They surveyed 42 children between the ages of 6 and 12, 19 of whom were neurotypical and 23 of whom were diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders. Autism is a broad spectrum of developmental disorder with stunted social growth. Children with autism have trouble interacting with humans, or even socially friendly animals like dogs sometimes.

However, since cats avoid eye-contact and don’t hold long gazes (unlike dogs) they make be preferred by someone who has autism. This characteristic is non-threatening in nature, as something even as harmless as eye-contact can be overwhelming for those with Autism.

Some dog lovers feel a surge of oxytocin (also called the happiness hormone) with sustained long gazes, the same can cause stress and anxiety in those inept at reading social or emotional cues, observed the lead scientist.

The team used home videos made during home visits and determined that “ASD (autism spectrum disorder) children displayed much more visual attention with their pet cat than with their pet dog.”

However, not all children are badly affected by dogs. Research conducted by the University of Lincoln found that kids on the autism spectrum were less likely to have a meltdown in the presence of their pets. There are NGOs who specialize in training dogs to calm kids with ASD. But the training is resource-intensive for both the dog and the child. In addition, a dog may require much more looking after (emotionally and physically) than a cat.

But the good news at the bottom of both pieces of research is parents with ASD children can look for a helping hand in the form of four-legged friends.

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