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Cat Therapy for Autistics

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
As some of you know, I'm an Aspie (a person with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism--think stereotypical "nerd" and you'll have the gist of it). I get together online with other Aspies and autistics, which is cool because we all have things in common, and often the same problems to solve.

Now and then, we talk about cats. A lot of Aspies love animals, and have special connections with them. Many of them can "charm" animals--communicate with cats, dogs, or horses better than most people--and there are some who have pets such as former ferals, dogs who used to have behavior problems, and horses who used to be skittish or uncooperative. It's not a universal talent; but it seems to be pretty prevalent.

I'm guessing that, at least with cats, the cat-charming Aspie:
1. Doesn't make eye contact--which is rude if you're a cat
2. Doesn't try to anthropomorphize a cat--sees a cat as a cat and not a furry human
3. May be obsessed with cats and consequently know a lot about them (I'm like that)
4. Isn't neurologically "wired" to read human body language--and so doesn't interpret cat body language in terms of human body langauge

People with Asperger's and autism have trouble socializing. People have a lot of nuances and subtext that isn't immediately apparent; so we deal with facts so much more easily than emotions. But animals are really straightforward; they are almost never deceptive. If a cat doesn't like you, it doesn't pretend--it just turns its back on you and ignores you. If you're being annoying, it swats with a paw. If it likes you, it purrs and kneads and rubs against you. Those are so easy to read that even socially-handicapped Aspies have no trouble; and it's a refreshing break from the "real world" with all its confusion.

I think a lot of Aspies, if they like cats, would be greatly helped by owning a cat.

Low-functioning autistics are probably better off with tougher, more durable animals like a Golden retriever or a patient horse--their sensory confusion can be so great that they may not know they are handling an animal too roughly because the sensory input coming in is so scrambled.

But an Aspie... Well, Aspies are very cat-like to begin with; and having a companion with no strings attached--a dog or cat--could really help. I know that going to the shelter and cleaning cat rooms helps me; because the cats are just straightforward, interesting, and nice to touch.

I know that usually a therapy animal is a dog or a horse; but for a person who is often introverted and may withdraw into his house, a cat might be better--you don't have to take a cat for walks in the bright sun, heat, or cold (which bugs some Aspies--not me, thankfully, except for heat >80 degrees).

An Aspie or high-functioning autistic would really benefit from a cat if:
-They like cats
-They can scoop the litter box without odor sensitivity getting in the way
-Any meltdowns (sensory overload-induced temper tantrum or crying fit) are infrequent and nonviolent
-They live alone or are socially isolated
-They are capable of taking care of a pet (most HFA/AS people are).

Anybody have thoughts?
post #2 of 8
That is VERY interesting! Thankyou for sharing a little insight into that with us. I learn to love new things. I think it would be wonderful for certain organizations that help autistic children to work with local shelters so that the children have a chance to interact with the animals and learn important things- especially if it helps them socialize with other friends and gives them a sense of pride in their work. (i've worked with three in my life in daycare- one had it very severly, the other two had it fairly mild) I think that would be wonderful to have something like that in our city I used to volunteer with Special Olympics a lot and I loved that. It would be nice to have certain organizations get involved with shelters- it seems like everyone would benifit
post #3 of 8
I have two friends who have Asperbergs - both are wonderful with cats.

One of my older cousins is Autistic, and his mom has always had cats, and he's always been very good with them. I'm pretty sure he was the one who taught my sisters and I how to hold them properly and how to play with them.
post #4 of 8
I have high functioning autism( diagnoised as something for a phd to dicipher ) and ANIMALS of supposedly lower species are some of my best friends ... Thou my yorkie is not a dog she is a canine sapienlol..
post #5 of 8
Thank you for posting that

Although those closest to me know and accept me for who I am, I feel I have to hide my real self and 'put on a mask' - act a certain way - in so many situations. An animal never ever requires you to do that. A cat never becomes wary of you if you don't want to make eye contact. Neither of my pets are comfortable with straight eye contact - a parrot is a prey animal and associates it with being hunted, so it makes him afraid, and to cats it is a challenge. A human would read it as deceit and becomes wary.

I can read the body language of many animals almost instinctively - they are completely unambiguous. They do not say one thing with their bodies and something different with their language. There is no confusion. I wish I could understand other humans as much!

Good post Callista
post #6 of 8
My nephew is 10 and he has been diagnosed with borderline Asperger's, he is so intelligent and acts totally normal to the average person. But not so much at home. I think a pet would be a great idea for him.
post #7 of 8
I think animals have a wonderful power to reach through barriers in communication that humans might have. My mother was a special ed teacher for many years and although she's not a big fan of animals herself, she's witnessed the benefits of involving them in teaching her students. Animals never judge, they either love you and accept you unconditionally or not.
post #8 of 8
PBS had a show about cats and it featured a woman who would regularly take her Tonkinese to nursing homes and schools for special needs kids - which included autistic children. It was wonderful watching the kids respond to the cats. It was also therapy for her because of her illness and she said the cats gave her a reason for getting up and living.
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