We have long heard about the health benefits of having pets in our homes. Pets provide companionship, affection, security and unconditional acceptance and love. The research reports that pets reduce stress in autistic children and can also help reduce social anxiety. For us the benefits of owning pets for the boys have been enormous – better sleep, lowering anxiety, companionship and security.
My boys have always been around animals and have always had a beautiful relationship with all kinds of animals. Since the boys were little we have spent a number of our holidays at a farm stay. The boys just love feeding the animals each day, picking them up for cuddles and learning about them. They have an interesting way of interacting with the animals. They like to closely regard the animals which is unusual given their dislike of eye contact with humans. They seem to understand the animals and the animals in turn calm them.
When J was 8 we decided to get a cat. We chose a cat because J is very sensitive to loud and sudden noises, and we thought cats were possibly more predictable and slower moving than a puppy might be. We found a beautiful ragdoll cat and welcomed her into our home. Her name is Luna. She rarely meows – only when she’s hungry – and she sleeps with J every night. He adores her and she adores him. She provides security and companionship at night when he’s often anxious, and J especially loves her purr which she pretty much only does for him.
T is a real animal fan too and began begging us for a dog very early on. We adopted a rescue dog but unfortunately that ended up being a hugely traumatic experience for all of us. The dog had huge psychological issues and was very distressed when he came to live with us. We employed an animal behaviouralist who recommended that we rehome the dog. Fortunately, I knew someone on a farm who was looking for a companion for her dog so they were the perfect fit. This experience was truly one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve ever had. We were all devastated. I think when there are children with special needs involved a more discerning process has to be undertaken to ensure the pet is an appropriate fit. T was the most devastated and to this day, still asks after this rescue dog. So when he continued to beg for a dog we decided to conduct some extensive research and get a puppy who we could train to fit in with our family from a young age.
We chose Pepper or really … she chose the boys! She is a miniature poodle, bischon frise cross. She is the most loving and intuitive little dog. She barks only when there are strangers and she sleeps with T. She has been the most amazing support for poor T as he’s really struggled with sleep and anxiety over the past 6 months. Wherever he goes, she goes and she’s very intuitive to his needs, happily just sitting beside him when he’s upset or worried. She’s playful and loves a bit of fun, and she tends to bark if T is doing anything unsafe (such as climbing onto the roof of the house, or leaving the premises!).
Pepper and Luna have been an absolute gift to my boys and to our family. They say that pets are the only ones who love your more than they love themselves. It’s that unconditional love and acceptance that is key. And it’s a bond like no other bond we have.
PS Have you seen this beautiful story about a young 6 year old autistic girl and her companion cat Thula