For individuals with autism, getting through the day can be an overwhelming task. More than just overwhelming, the world can be over stimulating, isolating, and scary. Any parent who has experienced the difficulties their child endures every day knows the helpless feeling that is associated with the condition. For children on the autism spectrum, emotions, experiences, and social connections that we take for granted are not always within reach. It is with that in mind that parents seek any kind of relief or normalcy for their child in a world that is not always easy.
With that in mind, researchers have been looking for any possible relief or treatments for autism. There have been millions upon millions of dollars spent researching remedies or coping tools. One of the things that they found came as no surprise:
Yes, millions of dollars spent on relief for autism and one of the most effective remedies is a furry little friend to love.
As it turns out, the same attributes that even the most able bodied and minded individual love and grow from pet ownership are the very same attributes that help alleviate some of the strain of autism and teach coping mechanisms to the sufferer.
- Calming – Is there anything more relaxing than sitting in a comfy chair and petting your cat? Individuals with autism are often existing on an elevated level of stress, primarily because of the way their body interprets sensory information. Imagine trying to remain calm while someone runs their nails down a chalk board. Hard to do, right? Many individuals with autism interpret everyday sounds as being abrasive and jarring, just like those without the condition would interpret nails down a chalkboard. Having a cat on their lap or to play with greatly reduces the stress level and allows relief.
- Teaches empathy – Individuals with autism often have difficulty understanding social or emotional cues that would otherwise seem obvious to those who do not have the condition. Having a cat teaches and heightens one of the most difficult emotional cues for autism suffers to grasp: Empathy. Studies have shown that the increased perception of empathy then goes beyond just the animal, but is then transferred into other aspects of their life.
- A love without expectations – Autistic individuals receive a lot of rejection. That might not be the most pleasant thing to think about or accept, but they do. They are often misunderstood and experience many displeased looks or flat out rejection. A cat does not say unkind things, it loves unconditionally. This kind of love is a wonderful change of pace in a world that can be full of hardships.
- Socialization – Social situations can be hard to deal with for anyone, but they can become downright paralyzing for an individual with autism. Studies have shown that cats help autistic individuals acclimate to social environments easier. Whether it is because cats are a universal common ground for most humans that allows a conversation to happen between an individual with autism and someone without it, or if being more in tune with the social cues because of the time an autistic individual spends with a feline, the studies show that individuals with cats in their lives are more easily adaptable to social situations.
- Connection – We all know the love and connection we share with a pet. It is something intangible that gets to the core of who we are and how we relate to the world. Think of all the bumper stickers out there that say, “My favorite people are my cats”. We can all agree that cats sometimes make better companions than people do. Now, for individuals with autism, that connection to another living creature can be vital. Autism generally stunts the individual’s ability to understand human behavior and social cues, which can often be isolating and hard. These feelings of isolation often result in lashing out and undesirable behavior. Cats, however, do not have such social cues. They don’t have words and they love and comfort. This connection with another living creature is of great comfort to people with autism, and studies have shown that the connection experienced with a pet can translate into improved connections with people.
- Comfort others in distress – We already discussed empathy, which is the understanding of feelings. Empathy is a hard thing for individuals with autism to grasp, and having a cat helps them build empathy for other creatures. Another quality that improves for autistic individuals when a kitty is introduced into their lives is the ability to take that empathy and attempt to comfort others in distress. It is one thing to understand that someone is in distress, but it takes another higher level function of understanding to attempt to comfort someone else in distress. Learning to read the social, emotional, and distress cues from cats helps build and establish that higher level order of compassion in autistic individuals.
- Improved mood – Now, this could easily be said of any of us. Being around a cat is a surefire way to improve anyone’s mood, but for parents or loved ones of individuals on the autism spectrum know, a good mood is a fickle and fleeting thing. Studies have shown that simply being around a cat or having a cat live in the home of an individual with autism will greatly improve their mood and reduce the number of outburst.
Autism is a hard condition to understand for those who do not experience it daily, whether you have the condition or a loved one does. The autism spectrum is vast, and it is not always easy to tell when an individual is afflicted with the condition. The magic of having a cat in the life of an autistic individual is that the spectrum disappears. It is a world where the ticks, the outbursts, the fear, the frustration, and the hardships associated with autism disappear.
A cat doesn’t care or understand if you have autism – they understand love. Is there any greater gift that we can give our loved ones?