The other day I was walking by my daughter’s room when I heard my son talking in there. When I looked in though, I saw quite an entertaining surprise!
Amin was holding a string and dangling it into Safiyya’s fishbowl. I asked him “Amin, what are you doing?” He looked at me with his serious look, and simply told me, “I’m fishing”. I was shocked first that he even made connection between the string and the fishbowl, yet I was happy that he improvised such a “sophisticated” fishing pole.
On the other hand, I was terrified that he might hurt the fish, and that Safiyya would be upset. So I joined him in his little fishing expedition. He was talking to the fish and looking at them from all directions. Than he sat down, and had a conversation with them, that only he and the fish could possibly understand! They even came to that side of the bowl that he was at, I guess so that they could hear him.
I noticed at that point how very good he is with animals, and he showed a great interest in connecting with them. When we go to the park, I am always amazed at how the cranes come to him, whereas they flee from anyone else. I give the these birds food and they will eat it, but I can’t even get close to them. Amin though, walks right up to them face to face. There are times when they are so close to him, that I am worried they may peck and hurt his eyes or face. At the petting farm too, he connected with all the animals, although I had to instruct him to be very gentle with the baby chicks and ducklings. He loves touching them, feeding them and interacting with them and all other kinds of animals. His favorite animals are turkeys and horses. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), that he was never injured by any animal (except for the snake bite episode).
Which has led me to wonder sometimes, is it time to get him a pet? Pets, particularly pets with which one can interact (horses, dogs, cats, etc) are very valuable for the development of any child on or off the Spectrum. Pets can enable autistic children to develop empathy, some degree of socialization, a sense of responsibility, and they might even help them to learn imaginative play (like Amin with his “fishing pole”). Some pets, like dogs, can also protect the child in addition to giving the child the confidence to socialize. How many times did you start a conversation as a result of walking a dog or caring for a horse? An autistic child finds it easy to focus on the animal in a socially appropriate and acceptable way.
There are several things to be considered though before a parent gets a pet for their autistic child. We need to consider the child’s age and their level of intelligence (are they able to be taught how to care for and interact with an animal?). Another major concern is the child’s allergies. My son cannot have cats, dogs, hamsters or any other furry creatures, due to his allergies. So we might be able to get him a bird, or a fish, or just take him horseback riding.
Furthermore, we need to look at the cost of buying and keeping the animal, how much space is required to keep it, who will take care of the pet when you are out-of-town , and if you have enough time to spend with the animal.
Make your child responsible to care for the pet. Do not expect him to do all the care for the animal. Give him specific instructions as to what they need to do, and if the child is wanting to do more, slowly increase their responsibilities. Make sure they do not abuse the pet, which can happen inadvertently if they don’t understand the heaviness of their own touch. Some autistic child have a lack of understanding of the consequences of their actions toward the animal and need to be gently directed so they can understand and develop the needed skills to cement a bond with the animal.
Since Amin is going to Safiyya’s room more frequently, to see and talk to her fish, I think he might do well with his own fish at this point in time.
So, I think maybe it is time for Amin to have his first pet!