Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pets and Autism

How great are pets?  I mean really, they are probably one of the few creatures besides our children that love us back endlessly no matter what.  That kind of unconditional love is so hard to come by these days and so comforting as well.  If you have a bad day, or don't feel well, or are sad or lonely, a pet can do amazing things for your state of mind.  In fact, it has already been proven that pet owners live longer and happier lives than those without pets and are healthier.

Another wonderful perk of having a pet is if you have a child with Autism.  There was an article that caught my eye in the beginning of the year in the Huffington Post about children with ASD and pets.  A study had been done on 99 children ages 5-13. Some of the children had autism and some did not.  Researchers observed the children playing with toys and interacting with their class pet; a guinea pig.  What they discovered was incredible.

"When they were with the guinea pigs, the children with autism were more likely to talk and look at their peers than when they were with the toys, which included dolls, art supplies and Beyblade tops. They were also more open to their fellow students approaching them and were less likely to cry or whine".

"Children with autism engaged in 55 percent more social behaviors when they were with the animals, compared to toys...the amount they smiled more than doubled".

We have two dogs, Alaska (Toy American Eskimo) and Havana (Havanese).  What is interesting is that I have heard so many people say that their ASD kids simply weren't really into their pets.  I can say first hand that we had experienced that with Aidan.  While he loved Alaska he was never "attached" to her the way most kids are to their dogs.  We figured he just wasn't "that into her" and it was simply part of his ASD. Then, we got Havana when she was 12 weeks old in June of 2011.  Amazingly, he took to her right away. He wanted to pick her up and hold her which was honestly a bit awkward for him at first.  You could literally see the uncertainty of him getting comfortable with holding her close and actually "showing" affection.  After a while it got more natural for him and he no longer looks like he is trying so hard (those with Aspies know exactly what I am talking about).  Soon after that, about a few months, Aidan started to spontaneously say "I love you"  to me and Scott before he would go to bed;  usually we would have to be the one's to initiate it first.  It was quite remarkable and he has maintained that pattern for a year now.

Aidan acknowledges both dogs daily now, and pets them several times a day and always every morning when he first see's them. They have grown accustomed to cuddling up beside him when he is engaged in an intense Minecraft game on the couch.  We have tasked him with giving Alaska and Havana food and water daily as part of his chores, which has been very rewarding for him.  He gets attacked with jumps and licks on a daily basis and loves it!

Of course, as we know, each kiddo is different and not all will respond the same, but it was interesting to see this unexpectedly unfold in front of us.  I feel his age also has a lot to do with it since we are seeing so much development as he gets older and moves closer to his teenage years.  So if you can have a pet join your family, you may get some unexpected leaps in bounds in your child as an added bonus.

Alaska & Havana

Much love...xoxo