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?