Ten year-old Callum Lake has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism that makes it difficult for him to read other people’s emotions. Like many children on the autism spectrum, he has struggled with making friends and dealing with anxiety. Then Spike entered his life.
Spike is Callum’s pet gecko. Callum’s mother, Karen Beech, bought Spike when he asked for a pet dinosaur, she says:
“Callum has always had a special interest in dinosaurs. One day he asked for one and a lizard seemed like the next best thing so we bought Spike.”
She also says that Callum has become more confident and independent since Spike became his pet. Spike also gives him something to focus on when he feels anxious, which helps him remain calm. This, in turn, makes it easier for him to have conversations with peers, and Callum is starting to connect with others. He says:
“Looking after Spike is really fun. I’ve started getting up really early in the mornings so I can sit and eat my breakfast with him before school. I feed Spike worms but my mum has to feed him crickets because I don’t like them jumping around,”
“Spike may be small, but he’s had a huge impact on Callum’s life and it’s heart-warming to see him so much more confident and independent with family and at home,”
“As soon as Callum held him he fell in love with him. He’s his best friend.”
Callum was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome two years ago, after four years of testing by health specialists.
“When he was young we thought Callum was a ‘pipe and slippers’ person, someone who just liked things a certain way. He didn’t cope with change very well. When he went to school teachers noticed his problems with communication, avoiding eye contact, and we started looking at what could be the issue. Although it was hard to hear Callum had Asperger Syndrome, it was a relief that we had an answer and could start supporting him,”
There have been other stories of people with autism responding to animals. Temple Grandin has made a career of working with cattle. She created a system that helps cattle remain calm as they move through the corral, and she wrote the book “Animals in Translation”. As Autism Daily Newscast reported earlier, Rowan Isaacson was severely autistic until his father noticed his reactions to a neighbor’s horse. He starting taking him riding, and credits Rowan’s love of horses with improving his condition. He started the Horse Boy Foundation to offer horseback riding to children with autism and similar disabilities.
Pets bring joy to many, and for children with autism, they may bring even more. Numerous families have reported improvements in their child’s symptoms when they got a dog or other family pet. Some children with autism seem to feel more comfortable connecting with animals, who don’t expect verbal communication, and who never shun them for making a social mistake. For some, getting a pet may be an effective, cost-efficient therapy.