Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Understanding autism

7.4 Animal-assisted interventions

There have been some enthusiastic media reports and documentaries about animal-assisted interventions, for instance horseback riding or having a pet in the family home. Advocates claim that contact with animals reduces stress, helping children to focus their attention and communicate better, promoting learning and increased sociability. Arabella, mother of Iris Grace, reports that acquiring a Maine Coon cat, Thula, played a remarkable role in helping Iris to overcome hypersensitivities and anxiety, such as a sensory aversion to certain clothes and fear of water. In this clip, Arabella talks about how Iris changed and developed when Thula joined the family.

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ARABELLA:
I found a breeder in the UK. And eventually, we found Thula, who is the kitten. And they just got on brilliantly. And she helped Iris through all sorts of problems.
So the water, she got in the bath with her. She played at the sink. She even went swimming with her. And it just seemed to solve that problem.
The problem with her clothes, so Iris wouldn't wear tops on the top half of her body at the time. And Thula would sit on her knee and be sort of purring, right up against her tummy. And I think the constant almost like de-sensitization of having that kind of fur against her tummy settled that problem down. So it was like another box ticked.
And then it was other things. Travelling in the car got easier if Thula would come in the car. She rode on the bike.
She just-- she was like this little superhero cat that came with us everywhere and did everything with us. And it changed Iris a lot. We saw so much progression and so many positive changes that it was just inspiring to watch. And then children from our activity club were with Thula, and they loved her. So their families got Maine coon cats as well.
It's not something that-- I think their relationship is one-off, as in it's particularly strong. But it has been replicated elsewhere. And I would certainly recommend Maine coons as a therapy cat.
And I would recommend considering any animal, actually. It may turn out that your daughter or son loves rabbits, or they love guinea pigs and that's the thing. Don't be fixated like I was on, say, a dog or a horse. I'm saying just follow what the kid likes. It could be a rat, you never know.
It was a very cool part of our lives. Because as a parent, you get tired a lot of the time. The therapies that you do, it's every day. It just becomes part of your life. And it was nice to see someone doing it with her that was just doing it so instinctively that I didn't have to put any effort in. It was just like watching them together was amazing.
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