The bonds between autistic children and pets can be very strong. This is believed to be because sensory issues are common among autistic kids, and stroking an animal’s fur provides sensory stimulation and has a calming effect. Animals also easily hold their attention. This is why dogs and horses are often used in specially designed Sensory Integration activities for children with autism.
People with High Functioning ASD can also benefit from being around animals in a similar way, because many of them appear to show affection for animals a lot more than neurotypical people do. Often people will claim that “animals are better than people”. This is a strong sign that they might have historically had long-term social and communication issues, consistent with autistic spectrum disorder.
I have always loved animals, especially dogs, ever since I had one as a pet when I was a young child. I know what it is like to live in fear every day, so whenever I see a frightened animal, I just want to take care of it. I have managed to reduce my own rescue dog’s anxiety issues by playing with her every day, petting her and talking to her a lot. And in turn she is constantly good for me because I can never feel unhappy when I am around her.
One of my friends didn’t believe I was on the autistic spectrum when I first told her in 2005. I had not known her long but when she saw how I was with her dog, she said I was like a child when I was around him.
To me it felt very natural to spend a long time stroking and talking to the dog in a friendly manner. I would be sat on the floor with the dog, while all the “grownups” were sitting on sofas chatting. I could tell some of them thought I was a bit weird. I didn’t care.
All my favorite people throughout history have been animal lovers, and I think it is weird not to make a big fuss of pets and talk to them. How can you not? They are just so full of love!
Photo by Beverly & Pack on Flickr