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Sunday, June 16, 2013


Yesterday I took Janey to a farmer's market near us.  She has been cheerful the last week or so, and she was so at the market---walking around, looking at things, content as long as I kept moving.  William came along with us, and once we had looked at most everything, I wanted to go over to where he was and leave.  However, that became impossible, due to Janey's phobia of dogs.

I have no idea why Janey is scared of dogs.  She used to LOVE them, as a 2 year old, even though we are not really dog people.  She would seek out dogs wherever they were and no matter how big or scary looking the dog was, she'd go right over to it and show it some love.  Then her regression came, and for years, it was like animals didn't even exist.  She paid no attention to them one way or the other.  Finally, she started to give our cats a tiny bit of recognition, sometimes patting them a little or at least looking at them.  But around that same time, she started to fear dogs.  It's not the same as many of her other reactions when she sees a dog.  It's basically a freeze reaction.  She stops, becomes silent, and simply won't move another step closer to where the dog is.  That's what happened yesterday.  There were lots and lots of dogs at the market, on leases and well behaved, but Janey just wouldn't walk in a direction where she saw one.  For a little while, we got caught in the middle of a bunch of them, and we couldn't go anywhere.  Janey didn't cry, she didn't say anything, she just became like a statue.  When I tried to hold her hand and keep her moving, she just stood her ground.  I would have had to drag her, or pick her up, which now that she is 60 pounds, I really can't do.  So we just stood there until some of the dogs moved on.

I really don't know what to do about this dog phobia.  I try reassuring Janey, I try reading her books with dogs, I try to talk to her about them.  I don't really have any close by friends with dogs I can have her get used to.  My sister has dogs, but she's moved far away now.  For now, it's not really restricting her life much, but it makes us not able to go to parks much, and as she gets older, she might outgrow back yard playing and want to do more outside things.

Maybe the dog awareness is a good sign.  Janey is noticing what's around her more, and scanning for dogs all the time, which is more than she used to do.  And dogs are not like cats.  They can come on strong.  They are sociable.  Cats don't tend to care if you pay them any attention or not, but dogs want you to interact with them.  That might be why dogs can be good therapy for autism.  When Janey first regressed, I read a lot about therapy dogs, which I found out were for kids over 6 with autism.  For a while, I kind of planned to look into getting one for Janey when she reached that age, but 6 is right when her phobia started.

Does anyone out there have experience with autistic kids and dogs?  I'd love some ideas on how to work on this phobia, or insight into whether it's worth it to work on it at all.


Mary Leonhardt said...

Hi Suzanne,

I've really been enjoying your blog. I am always so touched, and impressed, with the sensitivity and love and wisdom you show in caring for Janey.

My family has had dogs, and small children, for years. Here's what we've found out:

Many dogs will bark or growl if approached by a child they don't know, so please don't try to get her to approach strange dogs now. Some dogs will bark or growl even if the child doesn't approach them, so I'm afraid this might be a disaster waiting to happen.

Either a therapy dog, or a very, very gentle older dog, might work both to help with her fear, and to get her used to ways of dealing with dogs. I think you have way too much on your plate now, but perhaps if you got a dog before your older sons went off to college, they could help with the adjustment.

A gentle, loving dog might end up being a big help to you with Janey. My children were not autistic, so it might not be the same, but the dogs we had were a big part of making them feel safe and loved while growing up.

Antti said...

I used to have a dog phobia when I was little. Thinking back, I believe it had something to do with them being both unpredictable and out of my control. Stuff like "he only wants to play" etc. did not do any good. I don't recall ever having been afraid of puppies, though. Don't they say that you need to have imagination to be able to fear?

mknecht24 said...

I'd find a therapy dog to work with her. When I was looking for a therapist for Leah, I saw that several used therapy dogs in their practices. They say that it only takes a day to overcome a phobia with desensitization techniques.