National Association of Parents of Autistic People
I am U’s father. Three years down the track, I have been asked to share my/our parental experience, so I’ll describe here our son’s response to pet therapy.
Let me not make a meal out of this: autistic children, and their nearest and dearest, don’t always live a ‘dog’s life’ if someone gives them a ‘paw up’. This is happening in our household, and her name is Lilly. She is a cute, lively four-month-old puppy, a Labrador Retriever with short, very thick black hair and white toes, chest and tail end.
She was delivered on 25 December, and I must say she was by far the best Christmas present, not just for U. and his sister V., but also for ourselves. The one who was less thrilled about it was Miau, our cat, who has been with us for eight years. However, over time she is getting used to co-habiting with our new guest. As for U., he spent the first few days jumping from one couch to the next in order to dodge Lilly. Now he is exhibiting less fear and is getting closer and closer to her.
One factor in the breaking-down of barriers between U. and Lilly has been V.’s attitude, in that she just loves animals. By watching his sister happily play with Lilly, U. grasped that he could trust the new puppy. Four months later, his trust in her has grown significantly, so much so that he gets her to run after him all over our house and gets a lot of fun out of it.
Lilly‘s presence does not scare him any more: he often lies down on a couch next to her, hold her face in his hands, strokes her all over, even lets her gently bite his hand. And he laughs and laughs, happy to be with her. As his smiles get bigger, the holes torn in his pyjamas get larger, since Lilly is rather, er, attached to him and will not let go of him. But these are minor details against the big picture.
If anyone were to ask whether pet therapy is effective I would say: yes, without any doubt. Something I noticed in regard to hippotherapy is also true of U’s relationship with Lilly: he is becoming more self-assured and keener to bond and interact with her.
To sum up: our children try us out every day, and expect many commitments and sacrifices from us. Helping them can at times be a ‘beastly’ burden. Yet, at a time when we humans are behaving more and more like beasts (especially in our family environment), animals are teaching us to lead better lives. Let us be thankful to them.