Most parents with ASD children volunteered positive comments regarding the cat, such as calming the child, being a soothing protector or a guardian. In the interviews in Phase 2, for all three groups, most parents characterized cats as at least moderately affectionate toward the child. However, cats living with severe ASD children were reported to exhibit less affection than those living with typically developing children or children with less severe ASD.
A minority of cats in each group showed some aggression to the specified child; this was not elevated with ASD children. Responses suggested that the cats adopted as kittens were more affectionate and less aggressive to all categories of children than those adopted as adults. Canine companions have been particularly studied for the mental and physical benefits of dogs for children with ASD 3.
The term, ASD, is inclusive and now encompasses the range of mild-to-severe autistic impairments 4.
Service dogs have particular utility in assuring the safety of the child, giving the family respite, taking the social focus off the child, adding stature to the family and assuring safety by keeping the child from bolting and running away 5. Service dogs were shown to decrease cortisol secretion upon awakening in children with ASD, and parents reported improvements in behavior of the child when having a service dog 6.
Not surprisingly, the use of dogs with autistic children is an expanding role for service dogs, with the numbers of dogs placed in families with an autistic child increasing among facilities accredited with Assistance Dogs International ADI and also among non-accredited facilities in the U. Although dogs have the capacity to perform useful tasks and are more interactive with people than cats, they require more attention and care, and some parents reportedly find their ASD child is more compatible with a cat, or that a dog simply would not be a feasible companion for their child 2.
In some other contexts, cats have been found to be a better lifestyle fit. Having had cats was even found in one study to be associated with fewer deaths from heart disease than having had a dog or no pets The goal of this study was to obtain background information about the interactions of cats with children in small samples of families who have a cat and a child with ASD. These children presumably could benefit emotionally, and perhaps cognitively, from contact warmth and affection that might be supplied by an appropriate pet cat. Given the nature of ASD, dogs may be less appropriate for providing ongoing contact affection to some children.
It could even be possible that an autistic child might be educated not only to interact appropriately but also to partially care for the cat and even verbally communicate with the cat if demonstrated by the parents. It is relevant to point out that cats vary a great deal in affection and aggressive behavioral predispositions toward family members.
This variability is also evident when comparing purebred cats Selecting a purebred that is genetically predisposed to be affectionate and comforting could play a role in the assessment of which cats would be most likely to be best for a child with ASD. An extensive study on cat breeds revealed that the most affectionate, socially outgoing, and least aggressive, breed is the Ragdoll. While not approaching the Ragdoll in the absence of aggression, the popular domestic shorthair also was rated as very affectionate. In terms of sex, neutered males were rated as being more affectionate than females.
Although genetics and gender are important, so also are the manner in which the cat is reared and managed and the ways in which humans behave toward the cat. Expecting that a cat would be affectionate with a child may pose particular challenges, since cats were found by Mertens 12 to prefer adults to young children, in terms of approaches and duration of proximity.
Cats in families preferred adult women, with whom they reportedly had their most reciprocal relationships. These findings raise a possibility that predicting the interactions of cats with children may be more challenging. In this study, Phase 1 gathered data in a web-based survey on the nature of cat—child interactions in families with an ASD child.
Two questions concerned the responses of the children to the cats. In addition to demographic information on family members and pets in the household, parents provided behavioral ratings for the specified cat and specified child, as well as other members of the household, on a five-point scale. The aggressive interactions were categorized as: very aggressive family members limited exposure to cat ; quite aggressive family members had to be on alert around cat ; moderately aggressive sometimes acted up when held too much ; relatively non-aggressive occasionally would get irritated ; and non-aggressive regardless of how interacted with.
Fearfulness, toward visitors, was categorized as: very fearful runs away and stays hidden ; fearful runs away, eventually comes out ; moderately fearful may or may not hide depending on who is present ; relatively non-fearful greets most, but not all, visitors ; and non-fearful. Reponses of the specified child toward the specified cat were categorized as: indifferent to cat; fearful of cat; sometimes likes to hold or sit with cat; moderately responsive holds or sits with cat half of the time when the cat is around ; usually likes to hold and pet cat when around; always seems to want to hold, pet, snuggle, and sleep with cat; and other explanation could be provided.
To clarify the characteristics of a cat that make it a desirable companion for a young child, we designed a item web-based survey in SurveyMonkey directed toward families having an adult cat and a child diagnosed with ASD.
The survey included the stated requirement that participants had to have a child within the age range of 3—12 years and a cat at least 1 year of age. We distributed the web-link and solicited participation via listservs and groups serving families that have children with ASD. This survey was available for responding May through June The UC Davis Institutional Review Board IRB approved a written informed consent waiver because of the anonymity of participating parents since no identifying information was requested in the survey. Participants were informed that they were participating in a research survey, and by completing the survey, they were consenting to the use of their responses in a study analysis.
The interview questions were drawn directly from the web survey, but the interviews permitted more extensive responses than the multiple choices possible in the web survey. The choice is entirely yours. She loved cats and her beloved cat was always with her. When using a clipper to remove mats remember that the machine has to work hard so you may need to oil the blades as you are working. Yes, you do need reservations!! Older dogs survive the viraemic stage but may have blood-stained vomit and diarrhoea, and acute abdominal pain.
Participants were required to be 18 years of age or older to submit the survey. Among the 88 respondents to this web survey, 64 met the following inclusion criteria: responding adults having at least one child aged 3—12 years diagnosed with ASD the specified child ; having in the household at least one cat 1 year of age or older the specified cat ; completing the 39 questions of the survey; and residing in North America.
The sociodemographic information gathered included: gender and age of the specified child; gender, breed, age and source of the specified cat; household information on adults and other children in the household; and information on numbers of dogs and other cats in the household. Behavioral questions regarding the specified cat addressed: sleeping location, usual daily time spent with the child, and ratings of the cat on affection, aggression, and fearfulness, playfulness, and friendliness with visitors.
Types of interactions for the child interacting with the cat that could be selected by respondents included multiple options: frequently talking to the cat; frequently attempting to read to the cat; frequently attempting to play with the cat; liking to feed or give treats to the cat; or none of the above. A final question invited respondents to briefly comment on their experiences with young children interacting with cats.
These families had cats and had previously indicated a willingness to be contacted. Inclusion criteria included that the child be 5—12 years of age. Participants were invited to reply through the mail with the signed consent form. We presumably reached parents with a mailed invitation to participate mailed packets not returned.
Sixty-four of these potential participants replied through the mail, volunteering to participate in a telephone interview.
Among those who still had a cat and could be reached by telephone, 48 phone interviews with the responsible adult were completed and met the inclusion criteria. The 48 interviews were conducted in January —June The single interviewer who conducted all interviews did not know the category of diagnosis of the child when interviewing the parent. The interview questions were drawn directly from the web survey, but the interviews permitted more extensive responses than the multiple choices possible in the web survey.
A parent provided ratings by telephone of the cat—children interactions according to degrees of affectionate, aggressive, and fearful interactions, playfulness with the children, and the extent to which children liked holding and interacting with the cats. After the 48 phone interviews were completed and the responses were scored and the participants given unique identifiers, the diagnoses of children, among the five types listed above, were provided.
The data that had been collected pertained to 16 children diagnosed with severe ASD, 11 with less severe ASD, 17 designated as being typical, and 3 with delayed development, as well as 1 child with incomplete diagnoses. Included here are data on 44 children—cat pairs, for children with severe ASD, mild ASD, or diagnosed as typically developing.
Data of the two studies are reported using descriptive statistics, using medians, and the results of chi-square or Fisher exact tests for significance. For the survey data from Phase 1, 12 responses were identified as reflecting the quality of interactions between the autistic child and the cat. In this analysis, three of the 64 subjects were excluded, due to incomplete values for one or more of the responses. The first factor was also used as the dependent variable in a regression tree analysis CART that used a broader array of explanatory variables.
All analyses were run using SAS, version 9.
The survey was of 64 families with an ASD child and a specified cat, so as to characterize the relationships of the child and the family with the specified cat as described by an adult family member. When families had multiple cats, the parent responded concerning a specified cat that was most interactive with the child. Most children resided in households that included several family members and animals.
Only slightly over half of the families had other children in the home. Table 1. General descriptive information of households having a severe or less severe autism spectrum disorder ASD child and a specified cat, Phase 1. Of the specified cats that interacted with the specified child the most, the median age range was 4—6 years. The latter rating was described as the cat loving being held and carried around by the child. Table 2. Thus, these very affectionate cats were more affectionate to the specified child than to adults or other children in the family.
Mirroring the affection results, this leads to the assumption that these cats were more likely to be attached, affectionate, and non-aggressive to the ASD child and often preferred the specified child rather than adults or other children in the household. However, the median range of time these children were reported to actually spend per day with the cat was just 1—2 h. As described in the Statistical Methods, a PCA was run on all responses that pertained to the quality or depth of the relationship between the autistic child and the specified cat.
A regression tree was run on the value of the first principal component, using a series of demographic variables as potential predictors. The goal of this analysis is to define predictors and threshold values that distinguish between low and high values of the response.
Figure 1. The primary node the first split depended on the source of the specified cat: cats from a shelter or from neighborhood breeders had the lowest quality interactions with the autistic child, and cats adopted as ferals or from a purebred breeder had the highest quality interactions. Of the 64 respondents, 52 parents volunteered comments regarding interaction of the cat and the child: 40 comments were positive, three neutral, and nine negative.
Comments volunteered from 19 parents characterized behavior of the cat in being a calming, loving, soothing protector, bonded friend, or guardian for the child.
Mood regulation of the child was mentioned as an effect of the cat. They understand her moods and needs. They respond to her so incredibly. They bring her back to me. They are the bridge I need so that I can enjoy my daughter more.
When she has them on her lap, I can hold her hand. They serve as a buffer, a calming energy. They know their role.