Autism and Animals

by Elise Ronan

I noticed something very interesting the other day about my children and our pets. Suddenly, the pets seem to be more attached to the boys. Every time my oldest sits down on the couch, he has a 60-lb Wheaton Terrier throwing himself into his lap. The  boy then proceeds to spend the better part of the next hour scratching the Wheaton. This, of course, makes the Labradoodle jealous, so he comes over for his time. The Bichon doesn’t even try. She just heads over to me for her daily dose of attention. The interesting thing about all of this is that, in his almost ten years, the Wheaton has hardly noticed the boys. I don’t know what happened. But it is nice to see. There is genuine mutual love.

They say that dog therapy is good for children with autism. Besides the want of a family pet, that was the reason we got the dogs in the first place. But the dogs always seemed like my dogs and my husband’s dogs. They really never attached to the boys. Oh, that is not to say that the boys were not higher in the pack than the dogs. The animals knew that instinctively, but they just didn’t go out of their way for the boys’ attention. Now, the Labradoodle even cries at the edge of the older one’s bed if he is not getting up fast enough to play with him. The Wheaton rolls around on the younger one to wake him altogether.

The boys have always been empathetic to others, and have done a lot of charity work, but it’s nice to see a daily dose of caring for living, dependent creatures. They evoke a different kind of understanding of compassion that is very fulfilling.

Some of our latest discussions have been about animal cruelty and how the boys just don’t understand it at all. The younger one has always been somewhat of an animal activist. I remember that, when he was in middle school, I could not take him into the butcher’s because he would just fall apart. One day, he saw on the label that the chickens were “young,” and all hell broke loose. He started bawling so bad I had to have the butcher tell him that it did not mean the chickens did not have a long good life. He stopped crying long enough so that I could buy dinner, and the butchers went in the back and had a laugh. I also had to stop him in the A&P from trying to break open the lobster tank. He was going to save all the lobsters. I am actually really proud of his concern for animals and how they are treated. Because of some physical issues, I have not allowed him to go vegetarian, but I know that is the choice he is going to make in his life.

Caring for animals and concern for those who are defenseless are such wonderful empathetic emotions. They say animals are intuitive about good, caring people. Follow the animals. They know whether they are loved and they feel it from my boys on a daily basis.  Don’t let anyone tell you that those with ASD can’t love and feel emotion. We parents know better — and it’s not wishful thinking.

About the Author: Elise Ronan is the mother of two young men with Asperger’s Syndrome. This piece first appeared on her blog, Raising Asperger’s Kids, and is reprinted here by permission.



2 thoughts on “Autism and Animals

  1. Nikki says:

    What a lovely piece! I very much relate to your younger son, I am a 30 something Asperger female and I cannot bear to go in restaurants which have all those poor lobsters in tanks waiting to be boiled alive, it makes me cry. I want to break those damn tanks and rescue them all!!! People think I’m weird for feeling this way.

  2. Eric says:

    I think I have some form of autism as well because animals seem to flock to me. I can tell you endless stories about animals mostly dogs, but cats and wild undomesticated animals as well. I’ve had dogs and cats come up to you while visiting friends and strangers and lay down at my feet and the owners would say things like ” My dog or cat only does that with us and are afraid of other people”.

    One time I was visiting native people and their dog came up to me and lied down at my feet and the owner said that the dog never came close to anyone because she had been found neglected, abused, and abandoned.
    Dogs and cats also come to my basement window where I work on my computer.

    I’ve had wild skittish animals come up to me while snowshoeing in the woods and just look at me without fear. I was also surrounded by 100’s of black cap chickadees once when I imitated their song.

    I watched War Horse last night and broke down because the suffering was just too much for me to handle even though Spielberg used animatronics to simulate the suffering of the horse caught in barbed wire.

    Have a good day

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