How do shelter cats cope when matched with families of children with ASD?

Well selected cats can benefit ASD kids and the cats cope well. The Feline Temperament Profile (FTP) evaluation process is useful in matching shelter cats with families of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In an earlier post I came to the decision, based upon the studies that I had read, that FTP is accurate and a useful test to maximise the chance of success when placing a shelter cat with a family. It seems that if a child in the family is autistic there is a greater possibility of the adoption going wrong. That is my interpretation of what is going on.

Well selected cats can benefit ASD kids and the cats cope well
Well selected cats can benefit ASD kids and the cats cope well. Image: Getty Images.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The positive aspect of the process of placing cats and families with autistic child is that it benefits the child and the cat as the cope well. A study from the University of Missouri reported the benefits of cats for kids with autism. The lead author stated: “We found the main benefit of these companion animals is their unconditional acceptance”. They found that cats helped to increase empathy and decrease separation anxiety for autistic kids.

The firm conclusion is that cats help autistic kids but of course it is important that if a shelter cat is being adopted that the cat is selected carefully which is where the FTP test comes into its own. And in my earlier post I stated that FTP is effective in this regard.

This conclusion is backed up by a study published in September 6, 2021 on the Frontiers in Veterinary Science website and which is titled: Exploratory study of faecal cortisol, weight, and behaviour as measures of stress and welfare in shelter cats during assimilation into families of children with autism spectrum disorder.

Cat welfare in families with an autistic child

They confirm that there are true benefits of companion animals to children suffering from ASD but they stated that little is known about the welfare of companion animals in these homes. The study wanted to deal with this. They measured the stress of the cats by the amount of cortisol in their stools combined with any weight change and by using a cat stress score measurement process after two to three days after being adopted, as well as at weeks six, 12 and 18.

The conclusion was that provided the cats had been screened (I presume using FTP) and provided the cat’s new family had been educated on cat behaviour, the outcomes were successful. The adopted cats’ stress levels did not increase after adoption. However, the scientists are being cautious because it was a small sample size.

It’s important because the prevalence of ASD is one in 54 (I presume in the US) and many children face behavioural challenges and difficulties communicating. The presence of a well-balanced and confident cat in the home can benefit these children.

Comment: my personal viewpoint, by the way, is that psychologists and doctors are sometimes too eager to categorise boisterous or introverted and difficult children as suffering from ASD. I think doctors have to be very careful when they label a child as suffering from ASD because it can change their entire life. I’m sure that there are some if not many misdiagnoses.

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