Animals can be wonderful companions for disabled children and adults, but they can do so much more too, helping with physical and emotional development.
Here are some of your stories and tips about the benefits animals can offer – plus a look at some of the fantastic organisations out there providing a little animal magic.
Pets As Therapy
Pets As Therapy are a fantastic organisation and a great alternative if you are unable to have your own pet. They will visit (all over the UK) with cats or dogs, and the pleasure they give is immeasurable. I highly recommend them.
Not just a family pet
Freya has Aspergers and ever since she was little she has liked cats. Like an autism service dog, our cat is not just a family pet, but an important learning tool, sensory guide and companion. We’ve watched Freya grow and develop by gaining confidence with a cat at her side.
Fish tanks can be really calming for people with sensory processing disorders. My daughter has a five gallon tank in her bedroom, that not only calms her down, but helps her sleep better at night by providing white noise.
Autism Assistance Dogs
Dogs for the Disabled provides specially-trained autism assistance dogs for children aged 3-10 years.
If you want Freya to be interested in something, slap a cat sticker on it, or make the subject about cats; this will overcome her distrust of the unfamiliar, and when she’s comfortable, then she’ll actually do an activity. We have cat stickers on school books, pens, eating utensils, used as rewards, and on her orthotic leg braces.
Show and tell
Our rabbit has been great for show and tell at school, giving my son, who doesn’t make friends easily, a chance to talk to other children and enjoy a bit of social interaction and communication.
All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome
We found Kathy Hoopmann’s book All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome a lighthearted and non-threatening way of explaining things simply. Hoopmann has done a series of books – I know there’s also All Dogs have ADHD.
Canine Partners provides specially trained dogs to help with a range of practical, day to day tasks such as opening and closing doors, unloading the washing machine and even helping you to get undressed. They also provide special companionship, love and affection.
A furry friend
My son has profound learning disabilities and is unable to make friends, but he does have a friendship with our dog. My son can not play by himself but he will sit and play with our dog for ages. She is such great entertainment for him. Our dog is so patient with him and makes a huge difference to his life.
Cats as education
There’s no end to cats on the internet or applications available that feature cats. It’s instant entertainment, but also instant education. Quaky Cat developed from the Christchurch earthquakes, helped Freya cope with the Seddon earthquake that we felt here in Wellington last year.
Riding for the disabled
My brother has being going to Riding for the Disabled (RDA) for years and loves it. It not only gives him great exercise, but it’s really built his confidence, and it’s also a fantastic social experience for him.
Horse riding has great therapeutic benefits, improving muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination and motor development. It also makes a great break from a wheelchair.
Hearing Dogs is a national charity which trains dogs to alert deaf people to important sounds and danger signals at home, in the work place and public buildings. Hearing dogs can alert people to everything from alarm clocks to smoke alarms, and provide independence as well as companionship.
Something that’s hard for Freya is to read the facial expressions of others. So for her, communication with cats is relaxing – they don’t emote like humans. Cats’ non-verbal modes of communication are easier for Freya to relate to, such as purring, hissing and looking away to show you’re not a threat.
Dealing with loss
Our cat Ronnie taught Freya (who can become frustrated and anxious if a regular routine is broken) an important lesson when he passed away suddenly last year. The hard lesson to learn was that change is unpredictable and our loved ones will eventually pass away. Ronnie continues to be a mechanism for coping with loss and grief.
Easing social interaction
Social interaction with Freya can be difficult. She doesn’t look at your face and responds to questions with rote sentences, which can be disconcerting. But if you’ve got a cat, Freya wants to hear all about it. In our experience, people are only too happy to talk about their pets and this makes for easier interaction between them and Freya.
Dog keeps me calm
I have bipolar and my dog really helps get me through the day. She keeps me calm, gets me out of the house everyday for walks and gives me cuddles when I’m upset. Since getting a dog I’ve had no more nights in hospital.
Since my son has had his assistance dog, he’s had so much more freedom and independence from us. The dog wears a jacket informing people about his disability, and it’s been a great ice-breaker too, as people stop and chat to him now.
Building self confidence
I take my dog once a month to visit a young blind teenager with learning disabiities. She is quite frightened of dogs, and every time we visit, it takes her about an hour to pat him, but then she loves it. She really enjoys the interaction and sensory play. The sense of achievement she obviously feels when she finally pats him is wonderful.