The internet is full of stories of autistic people forming special bonds with animals – either pets or working animals. These bonds can be as simple as the animal drawing more of an emotional reaction from the child than anyone else has, or as complicated as the animal actually helping the individual learn how to do certain things, for example Autism Assistance Dogs.
These stories appear so frequently, both on social media and in the news that it would seem a lot of autistic people do benefit from their relationships with animals. Not all autistic people like animals – in fact some of them find the sensory issues, such as noise and smell, extremely difficult to deal with. But for the most part autistic people often find that they can form strong, long-lasting relationships with animals, in ways they might not be able to do with people as readily.
The reasons for this are unclear; it could be because animals don’t demand as much back socially – not that they don’t need love – but they don’t require eye contact all the time, and autistic people don’t have to fit a certain standard in the way they dress, or speak when they are around an animal. It could be because the way certain animals think is more similar to the way autistic people think – in the way they go off instinct, and don’t try to second- guess what it going to happen, and they don’t lie or try to manipulate. Or it could simply be that having animals around is calming and soothing, as it is can be for non-autistic people
Whatever the reason, the majority of autistic people have personal stories about animals they have felt close to over the years. These stories range from an animal that completely drew an autistic person out of themselves, and got them communicating, and interacting with the world around them in ways they never had before, to simply a close relationship with a pet dog or cat that was stronger than most relationships with friends, or even family in some cases.
The majority of autistic people seem to feel very strongly about their relationships with animals, and speak in extremely positive terms about them. Of course there are the minority of people who don’t actually like animals, or like them but get no specific benefit from being around them. It would be silly to categorise everybody who is autistic as an animal lover. But there does seem to be something about the presence of animals in an autistic person’s life that can prove to be extremely beneficial for them.
CAN YOU HELP? I am writing a book about the benefits of animals for people with autism and am looking for stories and photographs (optional) from either people who have autism, or the parents of children with autism. Please let me know how animals have helped you or your loved one with autism Email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks
For other articles on animal therapy and autism from Autism Daily Newscast, click here.