Pets Help Children on the Spectrum with Social Skills

Just had to share a great article I read today on HuffPo confirming that pets help children on the Autism spectrum with social skills. 

I could have told you this years ago, but I think it’s fantastic it’s finally been proven.  Even more so because it doesn’t specify that the pet has to be a dog.  Not that I don’t love dogs.  I grew up with dogs.  But our post-divorce living accommodations are small. 

He have guinea pigs.  And we love ’em.  Stinky, smelly, fat and fluffy.  Yes.  A guinea pig is a thing of wonder.  They’re the perfect pet.  They’re so low on the food chain they have no natural defenses.  That is if you don’t all pooping on you a ‘defensive strategy.’ 

Bob loves her piggies.  And they love her back.  In that “Are you feeding me now?  That would be great if you were feeding me now!” kind of way. 

And there are lots of pet options.  Just before you plunk down any money anywhere for that purebred Romanian, Red-Crested, Dragon-Headed, Garden Lizard – remember there are SO many abandoned animals who need a good home.  And almost EVERY species of animal has a “Rescue.”  Just Google the name of animal you want with the word “Rescue” after it.  Trust me, you’ll find one.  Yes, probably even a Romanian, Red-Crested, Dragon-Headed, Garden Lizard.

(2009) Bob and Leo (may he rest in peace.  He was a good pig.  Can’t talk about those last weeks…but if you want to READ about them…CLICK HERE)
(2009) Yes…she’s wearing a sombrero.  What’s she gonna do about it?

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Sarah Maizes
Author, editor, comedian. Pudding aficionado. Regular Contributor @TODAY @HUFFPO @MOMdotme
Sarah Maizes

Sarah Maizes

Author, editor, comedian. Pudding aficionado. Regular Contributor @TODAY @HUFFPO @MOMdotme

0 thoughts on “Pets Help Children on the Spectrum with Social Skills

  • I think pets are amazing for all kids to have because it really teaches some responsibility and how to care for someone else instead of being selfish. I work with horses and most of the kids I’ll be teaching have special needs. I’ve taught special needs kids before and honestly, they are the most fun I have giving a lesson. They always want to play games and you have to keep changing things up to keep them paying attention so it’s like the hour passes in a second. And you can really see it working as they start making eye contact with you, actually paying attention to what you say and smiling and having fun as they do it.

    It’s very rewarding.

  • This is such an important and powerful subject.  My full time job is Teaching at a High School with individuals on the spectrum and for 10 years I rescued and raised kittens in my classroom. The program has had profound effects on my students.  I used my kitten program as an education, behavioral vocational training program.  I have many stories of how kittens transformed the lives of my students but for now I would like to share this one. Kelly did not self identify as belonging in my classroom and refused to come in to the classroom for three weeks.  I do not believe in forcing students to adhere to my and anyone’s agenda.  I try to understand the circumstances from their point of view and do my best to meet them where they are, and build from there.

    For three weeks Kelly not only refused to come to our class, she would melt down and run away any time she saw anyone from our class watching her.  Our campus was safe and there was only one exit monitored by campus aids. I had someone monitoring her throughout the day so that we always knew where she was.  The first week we literally had to hide behind bushes and buildings so she would not see us.  The second week she could bare seeing us but we needed to be very far away.  (She began to trust that we were not going to force her)  The third week we could be within a few hundred feet.  In that third week during my shift to watch her, I heard a kitten cry under a vending machine.  I had already been doing kitten rescue for a few years.  So I got under that machine to get the kitten and as I stood up, who was standing right behind me, but Kelly.  She asked “what’s that”?  I told her it was a kitten who needed help.  I told her the kitten was very hungry and that I had food in the classroom.  I asked her if she was willing to help me feed the kitten and then give the baby a bath since it was very dirty.

    Without hesitation she followed me in the room and from that point on for the next six years I had the privilege to be Kelly’s teacher, she transformed from a young woman who would have day long meltdowns with very challenging social skills, to a woman who worked at Petco for 3 years and learned how to self regulate and became an amazing person.  When she felt bad or on the verge of a meltdown, 20 minutes alone with the kittens did more for her than any behavior plan could have ever accomplished.

    Animals are magic and according to Kelly’s mother, my kittens saved Kelly’s life and future.

  • Every autistic person I have ever met, myself included, has a deep love of animals. And this fact above all makes me think that the whole theory of “empathy deficit” is just fundamentally wrongheaded. Whatever our deficits are, they are not in empathy. We feel empathy as much as anyone else, maybe even more than most people—and you can see that as we wrap our arms around a dog or play with a dolphin. (What does an empathy deficit look like? Psychopaths.And one of the most obvious signs of a dangerous psychopath is the way they abuse, torture, and kill animals, sometimes simply for amusement.)

    Personally I think our deficit is in System 1 (Kahneman’s term), the intuitive brain system that uses heuristics to make snap judgments from limited data. Our rationality may be uncompromised (especially in high-functioning autism), but our intuition is limited. Tell us the rules and we will deduce the right answer; but ask us to judge the right answer without being told the rules and we are confused. (Neurotypicals can only manage it because their brains jump to conclusions, and happen to jump to the same conclusions.)


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