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Pets May Help Kids With Autism

Study Shows Bonding With New Pet May Improve Socialization

Large Pet Studies Needed continued...

She says the new study offers some of the first scientific evidence to back up the anecdotal stories suggesting that pets help some autistic children learn to interact with the world, but she cautions that the benefits were limited.

Patty Dobbs Gross, Danny's mother, says parents should not get a pet for an autistic child unless the child shows some interest.

"Families with children on the autism spectrum try a lot of different things, but this is not something you do just to check it off your list," she says.

Dog Was Loyal Companion for Son

Dobbs Gross now breeds dogs especially for families with children on the autism spectrum.

As director of the North Star Foundation, she has placed more than 100 dogs -- mostly golden retrievers and labs -- with such families.

She says autism service dogs are different from other service dogs in that the public is often encouraged to interact with them.

Her dogs often wear special vests with the message: "Please ask to pet me."

"One of the dog's functions is to get typically developing people to overcome their fear of the different, and interact with an autistic child," she says. "This interaction helps everyone."

Another function is to be a non-judgmental companion for the autistic child.

"Danny was mainstreamed from the time he entered school," Dobbs Gross says. "When he would come home during some of those difficult years around middle school, his dog would always be waiting for him."

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