The aim of this study was to understand parents' perspectives on how children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) benefit from a relationship with companion animals. Parents were invited to participate in focus-group discussions. One open-ended question with follow-up questions was asked and the parents' responses were subsequently categorized. Three main themes emerged: the quality of the relationship with the companion animal; increased interaction with people; and optimization of the child's function and development. The results show that companion animals can contribute to social and behavioral development support, and improved mental health and quality of life. The children's and adolescents' interests and activities with companion animals were more social than nonsocial and of different quality than the restricted and repetitive activities in which children with ASD are normally engaged. Our findings describe a complementary developmental support for this vulnerable group of children and adolescents, which give them possibilities for expanded social contacts, diminished anxiety and depression, and facilitated learning.
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