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Friday, August 3, 2012

Pets and autism (or cats and autism, anyway!)

I've seen some articles lately talking about a study on the benefits of pets for children with autism (here) An interesting part of the article was that the benefits weren't seen if the pets were around from the time the child was born, only if the family got a pet around when the child was 5. Now there's a helpful idea---when you have a baby, on the off chance the baby might become autistic, hold off getting a pet until they are 5, to reap maximum benefits. I joke a little, of course, but it's like so many studies and articles I read. They might be interesting, but they are of little practical use in Janey's life. I wish the money spend on this kind of studies could be better used.

How do the cats affect Janey? Not much, I guess because we foolishly had them since she was born. But seriously, it's like the cats most times are in a parallel universe. Janey pays them no mind at all. She doesn't generally touch them, look at them or play with them. Even if they run right into her, she just brushes them off. Freddy has been working on this, trying to get her to pat them, and that has shown just a little bit of success. The other day, we were shocked when Janey tried to pick up one of them, Vernon, our most standoffish cat. He didn't let her, slipping out of her attempt, and it was interesting that was the cat she chose. Maybe it was because he doesn't try to get her attention (not that any of them do, too much)

I've written before about how Janey used to love dogs, then became terrified of them. Now she seems a little more okay with them, and although it's never going to happen, I wonder how she would do with a therapy type dog, a dog that loved her and showed her a lot of attention. I think it would be frustrating for the dog, but I could be wrong.

I've thought a bit about horse riding therapy, but it's expensive and also not in the city. I wonder how Janey would do with that. Horses might be big enough so they almost seem more like a form of transportation or a ride to her than an animal, which could be good but kind of misses the point.

I've heard people say that all cats are autistic, but if you really know cats, that's far from the truth. The cats in many ways are more socially aware than Janey is. They follow my non-verbal language carefully. They know as if by psychic means if I am thinking about feeding them, and respond by lots of noise and getting under my feet and pointed looks to keep me going toward the food. They watch each other closely, and they play-fight, snuggle each other, have a leader and followers, they act differently when strangers are in the house---they are very social in a lot of ways. Janey does some of those things some of the time, but none as consistently as they do.

My conclusion? I wouldn't rush out and get pets for your autistic child in hopes of a social benefit. But I wouldn't NOT get them either. I think this is an area where autistic kids are as different in their attitudes toward animals as non-autistic kids are.

1 comment:

suenestnature said...

You have some very good thoughts about what pet interaction is and could be and I am glad that you recognize that a therapy or service dog might be frustrated with Janey. In some dogs though, they do seem to just 'get it'. The kid makes sense to them, for whatever reason. If ever you are interested, please feel free to contact me at (I run a service dog conference for people who owner train).

In terms of therapeutic riding I have two thoughts. Firstly is that as a rider who has benefited from the therapeutic aspect of riding, the benefit may be coming from the immediate feedback of your posture and motion relative to the horse, along with the vestibular realignment that occurs when you have to compensate for an animal who moves both forward and laterally at the same time. I am not sure that it matters if the rider recognizes the horse as a "being". I do think that the connection comes through experience, and with the vestibular component and the warmth of the animal, this might be worth pursuing at some point. You are right though...not cheap.