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Cats and Autism: Fostering Social Skills in Children

October 11, 2023

Cats and Autism: Fostering Social Skills in Children

Our cats are some of our best furry companions, but most people don’t know there’s a wonderful connection between cats and autism. They’re excellent cuddle buddies and can provide unique support and enhance the lives of children on the spectrum.

Therapy and medical intervention play important roles in managing autism, but the unspoken bond between humans and animals should not be underestimated. We’ll delve into the heartwarming connection between cats and autism and explore all how they can help, one purr at a time.

The Role of Therapy Animals

According to a 2013 research study on animal-assisted intervention for ASD, kids who got pets had improved social skills compared to the ones who never had the responsibility of a pet.

Therapy animals, including dogs and cats, have efficiently assisted individuals with various physical and mental conditions. These incredible animals are trained to provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support.

Autism Research Institute on how pet ownership can help autistic individuals.

Cats and Autism: Why is Feline Companionship Helpful?

Cats assist in improving social skills for children with autism, but how do they do it? Is it some furry magic or something else? Let’s see some unique ways cats can help transform your child’s social life.

Their Calming Presence and Routine

Children on the spectrum often find comfort in routines and predictable environments. According to a recent study, parents report that their children had positive experiences with their feline friends. Their calming and affectionate nature offered a consistent presence that created a sense of stability in their lives.

Sensory Benefits

Cats’ soft fur, gentle purring, and rhythmic movements provide sensory stimulation that many children on the autism spectrum find soothing. Research suggests that these sensory experiences may help in reducing anxiety and improving emotional regulation.

Teaching Empathy and Compassion

Children living with autism find it challenging to understand simple social cues. Introducing a kitty to your children, especially at an early age, helps them develop compassion and empathy for the pet and others. The responsibility of caring for the pet enables the kid to understand other people’s emotions.

Cats Relieve Anxiety

Children with autism see and interpret everyday activities uniquely, making them susceptible to anxiety and stress. Petting, playing, or feeding the kitty helps the child to remain calm, even in instances that could trigger anxiety.

Cats and Autism: Fostering Social Skills in Children

Fostering Connections

Quality time with a pet deepens the bond between the two parties. Even though the connection is invisible, it can be felt by the owner and the furry companion. It is vital for children with ASD to connect with other people, and what better way to learn this than through pet ownership?

Autism can cause individuals to feel isolated sometimes because it can be harder to comprehend social cues. Cats lack social cues, and they love affection. Connection with another social being provides comfort to kids living with autism. The relationship formed with the pet provides the foundation for creating social connections with others.

They Help Suppress Autism Symptoms in Children

Autism symptoms such as being unable to maintain eye contact and feeling overwhelmed in crowds can be reduced when a cat is in the picture. Children living with autism show improved social behaviors, such as introducing themselves and answering questions. This happens because the kids spend time talking to the pet.

Providing Confidence

Children with autism might not be comfortable in crowds; this can make them feel isolated. However, a cat accepts them for who they are and provides companionship even when the kids are in a bad mood. This elevates their sense of self-worth and esteem, enabling them to feel confident in social gatherings.

Science Behind This Beautiful Bond

The effects of feline companionship on your child on the spectrum may seem like magic, but there’s actually a scientific explanation for their wonderful bond.

Oxytocin Release

According to a research study, interacting with cats has been linked to the release of oxytocin, often called the “love hormone.” It plays a crucial role in forming emotional bonds and promoting feelings of empathy and trust.

Stress Reduction

Spending time with cats has been linked to lower stress levels in children with autism, all thanks to the reduced production of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. This stress-reducing effect can benefit children on the spectrum with high anxiety levels.

Real-Life Success Stories

A 2022 study interviewed six mothers of children with ASD about their experiences with cat ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mothers reported that cat ownership had several benefits for their children, including:

  • Providing sensory stimulation and a calming influence
  • Encouraging empathy and responsibility skills
  • Fostering a sense of companionship
  • Reducing stress and anxiety

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Considerations and Precautions

Cat ownership could sometimes be challenging, but the benefits outweigh the challenges. Although cat ownership can be a valuable complementary therapy for children with autism, there are some things you should keep in mind.

Allergies and Sensory Sensitivities

While feline companionship can offer significant benefits, it’s important to consider potential allergies and sensory sensitivities that your child may have. Close monitoring and consultation with your medical professional are advised.

Individual Preferences

Remember, not all children with autism may have the same response to cats. Some children may prefer other animals or different forms of companionship, and their preferences should always be respected.


The wonderful connection between cats and autism is a testament to the profound impacts our furry friends can have on our lives. The unique qualities of cats, including their calming presence, sensory benefits, and non-judgmental companionship, make them remarkable companions for children on the spectrum.


Q: Can any cat be a suitable companion for a child with autism?

A: Different cat breeds have different temperaments. While many cats have a gentle nature, choosing a cat with a temperament that aligns with the child’s needs is essential. It’s always a good idea to consult animal behaviorists to help you identify the right match.

Q: Are there any risks associated with children with autism interacting with cats?

A: As with any pet interaction, supervision is key. Start by teaching your child gentle handling and respecting the cat’s boundaries.

Q: How do I introduce a cat to my child with autism?

A: You should always gradually introduce a cat to your child. Allow the child to observe the cat from a distance and gradually encourage interaction as trust builds.

Q: Can cats replace traditional therapies for children with autism?

A: Although cats are a valuable addition to therapeutic approaches, they should not replace medical or professional interventions.

Q: Are there specific cat breeds better suited for children with autism?

A: Certain breeds, like Ragdolls and Maine Coons, are known for their gentle and sociable nature. Because of that, they may be good companions for children with autism.

Q: How can I help my child bond with our cat?

A: Encourage your child to play, groom, and feed your car. These shared activities will promote bonding between them.

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