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John Bonner reports on a meeting organised by the Comparative Medicine Section of the Royal Society of Medicine in London last month which highlighted what companion animals could do for human health
KEEPING a dog could improve the quality of life for thousands of children with autism and their families, according to Daniel Mills of the University of Lincoln.
Professor Mills described the preliminary results of a project assessing the impact of dog ownership on the behaviour of autistic children and the knock-on effects on relationships with their parents and siblings. These suggested that dogs helped affected children to control problem behaviour such as tantrums, encouraged them to communicate better with other people and reduced the stresses felt by their parents by allowing them to feel more like a ‘normal family’, he said.
Finding better ways to treat this condition would have massive economic benefits, he noted. The incidence of autism spectrum disorders was estimated at about one in 100 children. Although the developmental, behavioural and social effects were highly variable, it had been suggested that a severe case could impose a lifetime burden on the state of £3 million, taking into account the direct costs of care, and the indirect costs of parents having to give up work, marital breakdown, and so on.
Autism researchers had listed around 800 different interventions that had been studied in attempts to find a suitable therapy, which showed how little this complex condition was …