Welcome to AuSumness.
Every Monday, we post informative, fun and helpful tips on how to live more comfortably with friends and family with Autism. We have two young boys with Autism, both on very different levels of the spectrum and we are on the quest to find ways to minimise the symptoms of Autism as well as learning from this experience to improve all of our lives.
Today, we were looking at various scenarios relating to pet ownership in a household where Autism is present. We've had a very mixed experience and the research that I did on this subject came out extremely one sided, though not at all negative, which is exactly why we are here. Sharing information that can't be found easily and putting it where it's easy to understand and can also be attained fairly quickly, thanks to high lighting the key points.
Keep reading to learn about our experience and get a very well rounded perspective of the possibilities of pet ownership in your family. They say pictures speak a thousand words. See for yourself.
As mentioned earlier, most of my research was very positive. However, our experience has not all been positive, but certainly educational. We'll explain what we found with each pet and you can put it all together and come up with your own conclusions.
The up side. Pets are reported to bring a higher level of social interaction to children and adults with Autism. Children can also become more assertive when exposed to household pets and other animals. It's also reported that pets can reduce stress and calm people, too. I would think that this type of information would ring true for just anyone, generally speaking.
Besides the cat, we raised hamsters. When my youngest was just a toddler, he smashed it with his foot and laughed like a demon. Yes, the poor thing died and I felt absolutely miserable and responsible. WAKE UP CALL! This was certainly a call to arms and since then, we try our best to never let the animals alone with JJ. As much as he loves and appreciates his pets, in a flash, he will try to hurt them. Especially, if he is upset. Ask yourself, if this could be a probability, because it isn't easy being vigilant and keeping a constant guard for pets and your special needs children. Definitely consider the animal in your choice.
I can't say that he properly treats his beloved kitties either. We continuously teach and reteach him how to handle animals and he still holds, too tight, too long treating them more like a doll than a living being.
Cats do not seem to do anything that bother either of my boys, but I cannot say the same for the dog. We took two years before we decided to buy a dog and were ridiculously cautious to the breed we chose. We found that Labradoodles were probably the best for our boys, but didn't have the finances for that one. The second best choice was a Bichon Frise. That's this little, white guy pictured below. He's a pretty awesome dog, but he barks way too, much and this drives both of our boys nuts. As much as my oldest claims to love his dog, he'll give him a pop without thinking twice. Just a couple of barks and they both get very irritated and start screaming.
How were we to know this? The cats never gave the kids a reason to lash out at them besides the Lenny like hugs. We do all we can to stop the barking and because of JJ's needs we are always in ear shot and keen to sense a possible situation before danger strikes, but what a lot of stress!
In my opinion, special needs children are stress and stressed enough. The dog just adds to that, but that is our children. Your family might be completely different. I just want to put it all out there so you are not surprised if something like this happens. If you are looking for a small breed for emotional support, check out Michale's blog, Little Doggies Rule.
You can see that JJ's loyalties lie definitely with the cat. The dog tries very hard to get JJ's love and attention, but I must say, he rarely acknowledges the dog's existence! It's really, quite a situation and sometimes sad.
My oldest has the best relations with the dog, but he can lash out almost as easily as JJ. At times he can be inconceivably upset with the dog as well and gets frustrated at all of the work that comes to owning pets. Both boys like the pets when it best suits them. Put in a nutshell and simply said.
Don't expect your children to care for the animals. Our pets would totally starve to death if we didn't constantly tell them what to do. A schedule to stick with, might help better with this. No game time until animals are attended to helps a lot in our house. Even small chores are quite a hassle with us. They always give way too much food and never take the initiative themselves, to help and care no matter how terrible we make them feel bout it. Hehehe...If they are in the middle of doing something and we mention their poor doggies is starving, forget about it. They can even refuse to help despite the threat that we will give the animal to someone who will care for it better. It's sad, but it is what it is. Empathy is unknown.
We've always had chickens and for the most part, it goes well with them. JJ will certainly chases them around the yard and hassles them into a submissive cuddle, but his contact with them is more limited because they are outside and when JJ is outside either me or my husband is outside, too. Though, I have seen him throw a chicken to see if it really couldn't fly. So watch out!
We recently acquired a rabbit and this might go the best. The rabbit is contained in a very large cage, outside so touchy feely time isn't all that frequent and it's always monitored. Just like you see in the photo. It's just easier to monitor the rabbit more than any other pet. It is also more difficult to access the rabbit due to it's physical enclosure, which helps too. I will add that rabbits are a surprising amount of work, which might also upset your child, if they are expected to lend a hand in its upkeep.
Both boys have admitted that owning a rabbit is a lot more boring then they thought, despite my warnings. Taking Snuffie for a walk, on the other hand is rather enjoyable.
Another fabulous option and highly recommended is fish or an aquarium. They both absolutely love the aquariums and there is little they can do to harm these animals. There is a lot to teach them and they don't mind helping with maintenance, periodically. Our only problem that we sometimes have is JJ banging on the glass to frighten them, but honestly, I can't think of the last time he has done that. Of course, we did a touch of shock therapy to solve that one. My hubby scared the crap out of JJ unexpectedly and told him that's what he was doing to the fish when he beats on the glass.
We have all kinds of tanks. The most gorgeous fish are in the sea aquarium and this tank is constantly changing which draws the boys the most. A crab or anemone can come from out of nowhere and that's pretty cool. Our African Cichlid tanks always had babies and there is a lot of movement in there, too which grabs your attention and keeps interest.
Now, you have our experience with Autism and pets and a lot of pets, at that! Hehehe...I'd really love to hear about your experience! I recently started a Facebook Group and would love if you would join it and tell us all about your experience with Autism. I don't have a lot of friends whom I can chat with about this which gives me a fairly skewed interpretation and would I'd love to expand that by hearing other's stories.
Think long and hard before buying pets. Assess your kids very thoughtfully and critically as well. Perhaps even ask for outside advice incase you think you may be too, bias. I would easily say that owning pets and having children with special needs is not easy. It takes a lot of vigilance and patience and does have the possibility of heart break, but hopefully you've read about the positive sides of owning pets, too and have a very balanced idea of what would be best for your family.
Here are a couple more links if yo would like to read further:
Thank you so much for stopping by our blog. We've got a Pinterest board for Autism as well as a Facebook Group if you'd like to follow us.
Best of luck!