The impact of dog ownership on autistic adults has positive implications for mental health and suicide prevention, particularly when the dog demonstrates affection towards its owner and the owner is responsible for looking after the animal.
A study in Scientific Reports also found that dogs can help autistic adults perform simple everyday tasks, such as the purchase of products in shops, and can also be very helpful to keep a routine in their lives and facilitate conversations with other individuals, which, otherwise, without a dog, could be extremely challenging for many autistic adults.
Mental health problems and suicide are more frequent in autistic adults than general population. While 25% of the general population of adults in the UK suffers a diagnosable mental health problem, these problems affect nearly 80% of those on the autism spectrum; depression and anxiety being the leading mental health issues experienced by these individuals.
Dogs assist suicide prevention strategies in this high-risk group
This study aimed to generate a framework of well-being outcomes for dog-related activities in autistic adults and compare it to the framework generated for a general adult population.
Thirty-six autistic dog owners (18–74 years old, 18 males) from diverse UK regions were interviewed and transcripts thematically analysed. 16.7% reported that their dogs prevented them from taking their own lives, mainly due to the dog's affection and the need to care for the animal.
Close dog-owner interactions (cuddling, walking, dog's presence) were the most frequent activities improving emotions/moods and life functioning, whereas routine-like activities (feeding the animal) particularly enhanced life functioning. Well-being worsening was mainly linked to dog behaviour problems, dog poor health/death and obligations to the dog.
Despite some negatives associated with ownership, having a dog could improve the well-being of many autistic adults and assist suicide prevention strategies in this high-risk group. The framework was consistent with that generated previously, indicating its robustness and the potential opportunity to focus on dog-related activities rather than the vague concept of “ownership” when considering the impact of ownership on well-being.