Friday, April 7, 2017

Cats Helping Children with Autism

April is National Autism Awareness Month. This is an opportunity to promote autism awareness, autism acceptance, and to draw attention to the tens of thousands facing an autism diagnosis each year. The aim of this month is to educate the public about autism, which is a complex, lifelong, condition and developmental disability characterized by difficulties in the way a person communicates and interacts with other people. I’ve been working with adults and children on the Autism Spectrum since 1988, and in one of the many newsletters I get at work I saw a brief mention about cats improving social skills in children with Autism. This piqued my interest so I decided to read more about it.  

Animal Assisted Therapy or AAT (also known as Pet Therapy) is a type of therapy that involves an animal with specific characteristics becoming a fundamental part of a person's treatment. Animal-assisted therapy is designed to improve the physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning of the patient, as well as provide educational and motivational effectiveness for participants. 

In general, AAT has many benefits which include improved interactions with others.  There is a growing body of research which suggests that this dynamic may be helpful for children with autism and could account for increased social interaction when the children are living in a home with pets. There are also many articles written about it, however, most of the information relates to dogs and horses.  I didn’t find any empirical research related to cats being used in AAT with children or adults with Autism. I did, however, find some anecdotal stories about cats helping children on the spectrum. 

Iris Grace Halmshaw is a young Autistic girl who is a talented painter. The behind the scenes assistant is her therapy cat, Thula. Thula has decreased Iris Grace’s anxiety over daily life activities and has also encouraged her to be more social. Thula offers Iris Grace her companionship, friendship and supports Iris Grace’s mother in encouraging her to interact. 


Photo Credit: Bored Panda


This video of Iris Grace and Thula is so heartwarming. 



And there’s the story of Richard, whose family went to a shelter to look for a dog and came home with a tuxedo cat they named Clover. Richard immediately started having conversations with Clover. Richard’s father said Richard needed someone with the patience to listen and who did not ask him to repeat himself or explain what he meant. Clover had all those qualities. Richard’s father also attributes the fact that as an adult Richard has friends because of the bond the family had with their felines. Today Richard attends college and is not ashamed of having Autism. 


Photo Credit: Getty Images / Daniel Grill

I found an entry on a message board dated back to 2008 from a then 14-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. He shared that he preferred a cat as a therapy pet because “Cats are smaller and not as noisy and a lot of kids who have Asperger's don't like a lot of noise.” He also stated his service cat, Hub, saved his life. 

Here is a video about a young woman with Autism who found the confidence to speak through her love of black cats. 




Cats are coming into their own as therapy pets. According to the Interactive Autism Network, cats can act as a bridge for communication between autistic children and their families. The presence of a cat within a home can encourage social interactions and increase attention spans in autistic children. I would like to see more research conducted and articles written specifically about cats being used as therapy pets for people with autism. 

Do you have a story about a cat helping you or a family member? 
Dawn


32 comments:

  1. I think we cats make great companions for autistic humans... we are intuitive and can understand humans at whatever level they are on, without expectations. The Found Animals adopt and shop store is actually not too far from us! Probably about a 45 minute drive, if the traffic isn't too bad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. guyz...tell yur mom thanx for sharin...what a soooper grate post two day !!! we canna veew de mooveez rite now but will chex out out later ~~ ♥♥

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love these stories! What a wonderful partnership cats can make with people of all kinds. Thanks for sharing these pictures, stories and videos.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for sharing this. I have n autistic niece and love reading about animals helping with some of the challenges they face.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is a superb post! First, kudos to YOU and all of the work you do (and have done) to help parents/children with autism. I have friends with autistic children and it is not easy (as you know).I love seeing cats getting the respect they deserve as it pertains to THEIR therapeutic affect on people of all ages with varying illnesses. Once again, superb post! catchatwithcarenandcody

    ReplyDelete
  6. Those are wonderful stories ! What a great organisation, that partnership is great for both people and animals. Purrs

    ReplyDelete
  7. I really love hearing these stories and all the work you do! Animals make such a difference in the lives of their humans no matter what but these stories are so special!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Things like this is why I LOVE being a blogger! The video of Iris Grace and Thula melts my heart! Promoting things like this is what makes it all worth while if you ask me.
    Cats are AMAZING and while I also love dogs, I cringe when people say they do not like cats.
    My cats have saved MY life on more occasions than I can count! They know when I am sleeping into a low blood sugar and get in my face, lick it and do not back down until I wake up to eat!
    I can totally see how a cat would be a better therapy pet for a child or adult with autism due to them being quite and more calm.
    Thank you for promoting this! Different is beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for sharing these stories with us. We love to hear how cats are helping humans in so many ways.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Cats are just plain awesome. I had heard of the top story before, but not about Richard. Loved it! And that video of Jordan - amazing. It made me smile. Thank you for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  11. How lovely that these cats are making such a difference in these kids' lives. And I can see why they like cats. Cats are definitely quieter!

    ReplyDelete
  12. That is wonderful that you work with people who have autism. I enjoyed reading about each of these people who had kitties that helped them. I am so happy to read about cats in these roles helping people. This is a really wonderful post!

    ReplyDelete
  13. That was such a wonderful post and so many can benefit from a feline pal.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Cats are so good with people no matter what is wrong with them, they can sense it.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I loved reading this article. Cats are amazing and I have no doubt that they help people with autism and other emotional/psychological disorders. Like Summer said, they are so intuitive. I had read the story of Thula and Iris before - so heartwarming and inspiring. Thanks for sharing, and I too hope there is more research conducted and articles/stories written!

    ReplyDelete
  16. It's amazing how animals can make a connection where humans fail.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I loved watching the video of Iris and Thula. I think that animals are amazing companions and I'm glad that so many are able to help their humans live happier and better lives!

    ReplyDelete
  18. TIt's a wonderful thing to have a close relationship to an animal and cats are especially suited to children who want calmness to help keep them confident and calm. It is great that the medical community is starting to realize how important pets can be to our lives. Sometimes people say to me that I should get rid of my cat and then I might find a man. I find this so offensive. If a man cannot accept my relationship to my pet or child, then they have no business to be in my life. Our pets, just like our children, are very important to our lives.

    These children need their pets and I'm happy to see when it works out in helping them.

    ReplyDelete
  19. What an amazing post! I love both these videos, they are so heartwarming. Thula is amazing, I can't believe all the things she does with her girl! Cats can be great therapy pets.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have seen a lot of research and filmed several wonderful stories about dogs helping children with autism. I can absolutely believe that cats could help certain kids as much or more, especially interacting or relaxing/coping with stress/communicating in the home. These stories are so heartwarming and inspiring. The only disadvantages might be stopping kids bolting and the lack of established training and protocols out of the home for cats. Hopefully there will gradually be more research and support. The Mayo Clinic is doing several studies on AAT I believe.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thank you for a brilliant post on a subject that should be more widely known. Cats help - they let people reach out, they do no harm and are not feared by these people. I loved Jordan's story and I hope she can have cats of her own one day. I love the shop too.

    ReplyDelete
  22. While I never had autism, I was bullied as a child and was always very shy and reserved. It was the nonjudgmental companionship of my cats that got me through much of it. I can well imagine how therapeutic cats are to children with autism and I hope posts like yours and the work of others brings this important topic to the forefront of study and implementation. Purrs from Deb and the Zee/Zoey gang

    ReplyDelete
  23. That video of of Iris Grace and Thula made me cry happy tears! Thank you so much for sharing such a powerful story about the power and grace with which cats impact our lives. It makes so much sense that cats, with their calm and quiet energy would make fantastic therapy cats. Thank you for sharing about such an important topic in such a beautiful way.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Thanks for this story. I agree, cats are coming into their own as therapy pets. Time the old perceptions of cats as distant and aloof went by the wayside!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Oh wow, that video had me in tears! It's amazing the effects that cats and animals have on children with autism. I've seen it first hand with my neighbor's daughter and her new therapy dog. We also have a therapy cat at our local children's library, the kids love her!

    ReplyDelete
  26. This does my heart mega good. I love reading stories where kids with autism or any type of development issues are helped by pets. Way to go, kitties!

    ReplyDelete
  27. I've read and watched some programs about how cats can help children with autism.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I absolutely love the idea of cats being used for therapy for people with autism. I too have worked with people suffering from autism for a long time. Cats are a great match because they are generally quiet and not socially demanding. It would be great to see some programs for this grow!

    ReplyDelete
  29. I love that someone is talking about the incredible things cats can do. I've struggled with identifying and expressing my emotions ... and cats have a way of making the words unnecessary. Bear's made me a better person and shown me how to love. Best of all, loving Bear gives me the satisfaction that I'm not passing along my parents' legacy of abuse and neglect.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Great article. We so luv it when kitties can get da spotlight cuz as you said, it doesn't happen offen. There are so many more kitty stories out there, they're just not bein' heard cuz da doggy peeps are like their doggies and louder than da cat peeps. Fanks fur sharin'.

    Luv ya'

    Dezi and Raena

    ReplyDelete
  31. I love this great news, Lola, It doesn't surprise me a bit that cats can help. By the way, before I forget, momma went to Bed Bath and Beyond and saw those things. =^..^=

    ReplyDelete
  32. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for your comment! We love meowing with you!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...