Autism and the Benefits of Animals

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

We all love our furry and feathered friends dearly don’t we? Seems hard to imagine the internet without funny animal videos these days!

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Animals are so important to us that they are not just friends, but an integral part of the family.

For autists, an animal in the home can be this and so much more (#specialistinterest 😉 )!

Research suggests that animals can play a very important role in the social, emotional and cognitive development of children and can also aid the development of empathy. Animals such as assistance dogs (which I hope to write a post on at a later stage), cats, horses, guinea pigs, and interestingly keeping chickens is the latest trend to help improve these skills in the autistic community!

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Studies have shown that the social skills of autists who live with an animal are much greater than those who do not have a pet. Pets are often considered “social lubricants” wherein they provide autists with a source of conversation which can encourage better engagement.

Sometimes we find it a lot easier to relate to animals. I’ve often remarked growing up that life would be so much easier if we were all dogs for example. With a dog, life is black and white (fun fact– they aren’t colour blind!). You take care of them, they love you forever-simple. There are no games or tricks (well, unless like my dog yours spins round in circles when you try to brush him to make you dizzy in the hope that you will go away 😛 ), you never have to wonder where you stand with a dog, they’ll make it very clear if they love or hate you!

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Studies have also shown that animals in fact can have a measurable biological effect on people with autism! A recent study measured “excitement” levels in children with autism when performing such tasks as reading out loud and playing with a group. The results showed that in these situations, the excitement levels were higher in the brain indicating stress. However, when these levels were measured whilst playing with an animal they  plummeted as stroking the animal induced biological calm.

Finally!

Scientific proof that I should spend more time cuddling my dogs!!! 😉

 

 

However, as beneficial as animals can be, experts advise that the individual needs and sensitivities of the child are taken into consideration when choosing a pet. A dog might seem like a good idea, but whilst many autists may gravitate towards the soft and furry, others may be repulsed by the texture of their hair, the smell or may even be overwhelmed by their energetic nature.

Aoife’s Top Tip– Try to expose your child to different animals to gauge their reactions before making any firm decisions on a pet- they are a big commitment! The research shows that any pet, even a spider, can be beneficial 🙂

There we have it dear Earthlings- another, scientifically proven reason to love animals all the more! 😀

What better way is there to spend the bank holiday weekend than relaxing with your pet? 😉

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Aoife

A Siblings Perspective of Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Going to shake things up a little bit today with an interview!

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When it comes to experiences of living with autism, we hear most frequently from parents and those with the condition themselves. Oftentimes we forget that siblings of children with autism are also living the experience. So today I’m going to interview my sister Órlaith about her experiences of growing up with a sibling on the spectrum 🙂

What am I getting myself into….

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Over to you then Órlaith! 🙂

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Hello everyone! I’m Órlaith, Aoife’s younger (but not youngest!) sister. She’s roped me in today to talk about how life was growing up oblivious to the fact that Aoife has autism… and to provide some lovely anecdotes about some of her finest moments… Muahaha… So let’s get started!

Aoife: Growing up oblivious to the fact that I was on the spectrum, did you ever feel that something was different about me? Did you ever think my behaviour odd?

Where do I start! We always knew that there was something different about you. If you ask mammy I’m sure she will tell you you were born different. I suppose the most stand out things though were your spectacular “temper tantrums”, fantastic lack of tact, and your…amm… preference for always telling the truth…

I never really understood why when you got mad things really escalated like they did, I always thought it was not usual. Aoibhlinn (our other sister) and I would have had our moments but they were nothing compared to yours! Of course now with hindsight it’s easy to see that they were actually meltdowns that you weren’t really in control of but at the time it seemed very odd.

The tact and the truth telling always went/go hand in hand, it definitely wasn’t the norm for someone (in Ireland anyway), to tell you exactly what they think, no sugar coatings. That always struck me as odd. I’ll always appreciate being told that I look terrible… 😛

Looking back on it now, even when we watch old videos of you when you were about 5, it’s so obvious you have autism!

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Aoife: Did friends or other children ever pass comment to you about my “uniqueness” (for want of a better term)?

They did from time to time, which was never easy to hear because it’s your sister that people are talking about.  

Aoife: Did you ever find it hard to relate to me versus Aoibhlinn or other children?

Nah brah, I got your back jack! 🙂 Like, you often took managing but I never had a problem connecting with you, probably because we always liked the same things. And I dunno, you seem to like me or something so I think that helps 😛

Aoife: How did you feel around me when I would have a meltdown? What did you make of my meltdowns?

In general, the initial reaction was “Oh lord she’s at it again”, I think we all just got used to you and thought you were just being dramatic (see that time you threw everything out the window 😛). I’m a pretty anti-confrontation person anyway so when your blow-ups really blew up I really hated it and wanted you to just calm down and see reason, but I now know that when you’re in the middle of a meltdown you can’t see reason! Just having a, what we call, “Aoife Moment™”.

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Aoife: Growing up, even though you’re younger than me, did you ever feel responsible for me, as if you were my big sister?

Now that you mention it, I guess I did. Without being aware that you had autism and that you had to basically be taught how to behave in social situations, I think that I always felt like I had to show you how things work in the world and make you more “streetwise” because those things didn’t come naturally to you. You often don’t see the danger in things so often I feel a bit “big sisterly” and want to try and guard you and take you out of “Aoifeland” (for those who don’t know, this is the magical place Aoife goes to in her head when she zones out and falls down the stairs, spends hours looking at the ceiling, etc.). I still feel like I’m teaching you things every day, so I guess that changes the dynamic, dammit Aoife you’re meant to be teaching me! 😛

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Aoife: What did you know/feel about autism before I was diagnosed?

A hell of a lot less than I know now! Not a whole lot to be honest, I think I thought it was something that’s a lot more of a big deal than it is. I didn’t know how prevalent it is in people, which was a huge eye opener!

Aoife: Did you ever resent me for being different/my behaviours/social faux pas etc.?

A bit because you could have an “Aoife moment” and say something embarrassing about me 😛 Often you could have an embarrassing moment and, sure, that’s annoying, but on the up side, your social faux pas have led to some entertaining moments (“Mammy why is that man so smelly?” (Aoife 1994) Oh and let’s not forget your amazing sense of tact, it would be nice to not be insulted all the time, not that you mean to be insulting (I think…… 😛 )

Aoife: How did you feel about/react to my diagnosis?

I wasn’t in any way surprised because as we already talked about, there was always something odd about you! I think it was a good thing for you because it gave you a huge awareness and understanding about yourself and who you are, and that you’re not JUST an oddball, you’re an oddball with Autism! 😉

Aoife: Thanks for that then Órlaith! I bid you adieu! 🙂

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So there we are now Earthlings, I hope you enjoyed this post!

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

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Aoife (and Órlaith 🙂 )

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