By Clara H
Research has shown that dogs can help children with autism develop socially. It can put them in situations that involve communication skills which will boost their self-confidence. For example, If you are walking down the street alone no one may stop to talk to you, but if you are walking with a dog it's much more likely for someone to approach you.
The child can also learn responsibilities through dogs due to the fact that they enjoy feeding, grooming, and walking their pet. If they can learn to share objects with the dog they will start to do the same thing with his/her peers.
A study from the University of Missouri shows that not only dogs can improve social skills for those with ASD. Cats, rabbits, and other animals with less energy can be better for those with higher sensitivities. "Though parents may assume having dogs are best to help their children, my data shows greater social skills for children with autism who live in homes with any type of pet,” says Gretchen Carisle, a research fellow at the MU Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction.
Animals can also decrease kids' with Autism's stress and anxiety levels. National Institutes of Health even did a research project proving this point. They had children with ASD and without ASD play with guinea pigs while wearing a wrist band fitted with a device that measures skin conductance. Their website states, "when the session with the guinea pigs began, skin conductance levels among the children with ASD dropped significantly" meaning that the guinea pigs made them feel calm.
Of course, not all people with an autistic spectrum disorder enjoy being around animals because we all have different preferences. Some have sensory issues where they cannot stand being around them, and others simply don't like them. I wasn't very fond of any kind of animal myself as a little girl. I was okay with them from a distance but not up close.
My grandmother used to take my brother and me to the zoo a lot when we lived in Kansas. I enjoyed the majority of it because most of the animals were behind bars or strong glass. The peacocks, for example, roamed freely making me feel anxious. Every time I saw one I would scream and hide behind my grandma thinking they were going to peck at me until I bled to death.
I don't know why I had that fear. When I was about five, I was chased around a park by a boxer dog. Yet, I don't think that is how I got to be so afraid. I was scared of animals way before that incident. Maybe I had a nightmare a long time ago about something like that happening. I do recall this one dream I had where I was being chased by a herd of sheep, but I do believe I was already in grade school when I dreamt that.
Today, I do not fear most animals. My recovery began in 2011 when my parents bought me an extremely tolerant hamster (wouldn't hurt a fly). His name was Templeton. I asked for a hamster because wanted to be like a friend who had one. It was before I realized I was not interested in caged animals as pets.
About 9 months after he came into the family, he bit me as I was reaching into his cage. He was standing just inches away from me before he went lightning speed to my finger. My heart started to race as I looked down at where I had been bitten. Only a tiny drop of blood had leaked out from under my skin. My heart went faster as I ran screaming to my mom.
I never opened that tiny, little door again. I would dump is food in through the bars of his cage and have my dad do all the cleaning. The only time I petted him after he had bitten me was when he laid dead in the palms of my mother's hands.
My dad told me that Templeton had a nice, long life. Part of me wants to disagree with that statement. He definitely had a long life, but not what I would consider to be a nice life. He was kind of abandoned if you'd ask me.
That wasn't the end of my recovery. On February 21, 2014, my family adopted a standard poodle puppy named Presto. The adoption process took about 2 years. First, we had to do research on what kind of dog breed would be right for our family, and then we had to find a place where we could get that kind of dog.
Those two parts were easy. We knew we had to get a hypoallergenic dog because my mom and brother both have allergies. We also wanted a dog that was easy to train and would get along with everyone in the family. The poodle met all of those requirements. They are common dogs too which made it not hard to find a good Poodle breeder.
The most difficult part for me was waiting. I waited for a poodle to get pregnant, I waited for the puppies to be born, I waited to pick out the one to keep, and I waited for the puppies to be old enough to be separated from their mother. Pretty much the only thing I did in those 2 years was sit around thinking about poodles.
The first couple of years we had Presto, everyone thought he was a big pain in the neck. People were constantly yelling at him and hitting him. Well, everyone except for me. I could tell what was going on in his mind. I've never felt that way with anyone before. It seemed like I was looking at magic.
I assumed that everyone was experiencing the exact same miracle feeling as me because all of this happened before I found out about my ASD diagnosis. I didn't know that they weren't having the same kind of connection I was having with Presto. I thought they were all just being mean, which made my cry a lot. How could my family do this to him?
I didn't understand. Presto didn't understand. It was a big mess of confusion. On the bright side, he had me. If no one knew what he was thinking, at least I did. In my eyes he was perfect. Maybe not at the time, but I knew he was going to be.
Today, some people say that he's like a totally different dog than he was five years ago. I'm not exactly sure why they think that. He is the exact same dog that he was back then. He did change quite a bit. He got much bigger and his thought process chanced but that is only because he understands the world around him better.
I believe that according to research, pets do help those with ASD due to my own experiences. My dog had made my anxiety levels drop and my migraine number decrease significantly. It took a long time for me to find the right pet but it was definitely worth it in the end. Presto is more than my dog, he is my best friend.
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