I’ve written frequently about my cats because, well, they’re part of the family and I’m a life blogger. :-) Luna is smart, Daisy is not. Both are sweet and silly and give the family a lot of pleasure while they’re spoiled rotten in return. One thing I haven’t talked about a lot, although I believe I mentioned it a few years ago when we first rescued Luna, was the reason we adopted the cats in the first place: I had come across some research about the benefits animals can have for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I already knew that Gracie has a great love for cats in particular and in fact wanted to be a cat. Every experience she ever had with cats before we had Luna was sweet and she would cry when it was time to leave the cat.
Gracie had reached a point where she wasn’t interacting much with us in the home. She had retreated so much into herself that she was nearly nonverbal. She was still crying a lot and we were still in the beginning stages of figuring out her Sensory Integration Disorder and ASD. She was still freshly diagnosed. We had recently committed to a completely lactose-free diet and removing artificial food dyes and high fructose corn syrup (and other trigger foods).
Then we went in that little room to meet Luna and she was smiling and giggling. They snuggled together and she started chatting to the kitten! We brought Luna home and they got along famously. Gracie continued to chat nonstop to Luna and pet her constantly, carrying her around like a little stuffed animal. Luna let her. Whenever Gracie was upset, the cat came running. Four years later and Luna still comes to see why Gracie is crying. I often will take Luna’s cues to see if Gracie’s upset is “just Gracie acting like a typical 9 year old” or if it’s related to her ASD or SID. If Luna ignores her, I know to approach her a certain way. If Luna goes to her to comfort her then I know to approach her differently. Of course all of my girls love the cats. My 7 year old likes to dress Luna up and make her sit while she teaches her the alphabet and how to count. Little does Anna realize that she’s helping Luna in her quest to take over the world some day. The one who really needs the lessons is Daisy, who forgot her name during the week we lost power and The Mister didn’t use her name at all while the kids and I stayed with my brother. It took over two weeks to re-teach Daisy her name.
All of this because these are some of the things I learned:
There are some touted benefits to having animal companions which are commonly accepted: lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, lower stress rates in people who have animal companions versus their comparable counterparts who don’t have animal companions. There’s an associated reduced risk of hypertension and heart attacks for people who have animal companions.
In many instances the companionship has been known to help people overcome shyness, develop trust, enhance social skills and cope with illness and loneliness. Animal companions have often been known to alert others to medical problems with their human companions, such as the onset of a seizure or heart attack. They’re helpful in promoting physical contact, which in itself is therapeutic.
Of course we can’t forget that there are dogs who are specifically trained to be therapeutic animals for people with physical disabilities and certain disorders.
This is all without even mentioning the bond and unconditional love between animals and their humans.
I thought I’d share a few articles on the benefits of animal companions in a therapeutic manner for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There are service animals provided specifically for people with ASD. This is something that we would actually consider in the future but it’s information that’s too valuable not to share. These articles also reiterate some of what I’ve already mentioned. ;-)