Cats as Therapy Animals for Autistic Children: a Story of Trial and Success

When I was young, I noticed that something didn’t seem correct. Not in my world that is. I couldn’t speak to other people as easy as other individuals. Talking was as easy for other people as exhaling air. To me, talking was like learning to sky dive without a parachute. I also had a wild imagination and it worked against me in designing the worse outcome scenarios possible.

I had the ingrained thought that talking to someone would cause an emotion similar to drowning or that of the world crashing upon me.

From second grade all the way to the end of high school, I had many problems associated with communicating. I was unable to talk to people and walked with my arms to my side. Every time I attempted to talk or even had the thought of talking, I would shake with worry. What would people think about me? What if I stutter or fail to make a point? What if they hit me or hurt me? I had to walk down the halls with my hands fidgeting and hands cupped to avoid all communication.

The Real Pain Begins…

The symptoms didn’t really flare up until 6th grade. The beginning of middle school was really complicated due to the fact that my foster dad had just passed away. We had to relocate several times. During the duration of middle school I did very poor in my classes and played sick most of the time. If there was a social event going on, I would come up with a clever excuse not to go. I felt that no one would understand the way I was.

I had panic attacks, and I found it hard to breathe and to talk at times. My chest often felt as hard as a rock and I didn’t want to experience that. I had a lot of enemies and many people whom hated me for no reason. Even teachers made fun of me and that also lowered my confidence. I suspect it was because I was quiet and different. All this led up to attendance probation and my missing 50 days a year record.

After middle school, I decided I was going to go to high school. Ninth grade started out very bad. Since I was aspergic and did not necessary thrive on human communication, I had a multitude of problems in gym. Sure, it was only like basketball and softball. But by not being able to talk like other people discounted my confidence and even started to affect my physical shape and athletic ability. So I chose to not dress out and accepted the F – the same with art class. I had no confidence, so I gave no effort.

10th grade was the year that I dropped out and swore I would never return. The trouble was too much to bear. Mean students, rude teachers and complicated situations everywhere I went. You can only imagine how annoying it was in the lunch room, not being able to talk. In the summer of that year, I obtained Tiger, a Bengal cat who had graced my life. Tiger was a very friendly cat that often gave me company during troubling times and helped me though a few very difficult situations. I also met a lot of other affectionate animals and caring individuals who helped me.

My Introduction to Animals

11th grade was compared to all the previous years, better. I actually tried in some respects. I almost dropped out twice. One of the only things that kept me going on in school was the humane society volunteer program, and the support from several behavioral places. This program permitted me to volunteer at the humane society two hours a day from school. The volunteering counted for credit hours and went towards the credits needed for graduation.

I did not want to let the animals down. I always make sure that I give each cat a certain amount of time of play and love. Via the program, I had the opportunity to pet and play with cats, socialize them and train them. They really enjoyed it. I worked hard to steer their behavior, to understand their thinking and to help them adjust to not having a home and I tried to find them homes for them.

12th grade was the year that I got to volunteer four hours a day at the humane society. They extended my time for being a big animal lover! The next few months that followed, was rough but successful. I got all A’s and I got almost perfect attendance at school. I started feeling better about myself as a individual. Tiger often accompanied me and slept by my side to keep me company. Tiger would even sleep on my computer desk while I worked. My kitty companion and I would often play hide and go seek, and tag. Our favorite time was when we would play with the cat dancer. He can run fast!

Success!

I almost dropped out once in 12th grade also, but I made it. If it wasn’t for cats and inspiration from my family, I am almost certain it would have never happened. My mom and my job coaches helped in pushing me and my cats offered the leading line of support. I say that because their company made the difference. Sometimes we just need another understanding companion to spend time with us. Perhaps that is why cats are so good with autistic children; they are just there to understand. Not to judge, criticize or talk. Just to listen. Animals have succeeded where people have not.

It is now after high school and I have a job at my local humane society. I love spending the time with the cats. I have been making a major recovery from aspergers. The primary reason for my success is simple yet often not taught. I have not been trying to recover just for myself. I am trying to improve so that I can do a lot more for animals in the future. That goal requires that I communicate better. I find that when humans try to do things for themselves alone and not for the benefit for others, they are ten times as likely not to succeed. What’s more, it does not give us the confidence to try harder.

Cats make excellent therapy companions. Even if you aren’t autistic, cats always seem to bring us up from the deepest depths of depression and trouble. Cats are certainly a gift to be treasured.

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