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Fish - Calming Sensory Input I know a lot of parents of children with various isms who refuse to get a pet because they’re worried that their child will harm it or that it will take too much effort to care for a pet.  Unenlightened, they seem to feel that pets could be a bad thing.  Pets are one of the best forms of therapy and support that a child with isms can have – let me enlighten you. As a general rule, the more interactive the pet, the better. There’s a bit of a scale per se – fish are the least interactive while dogs are the most interactive with other pet options in between.

Fish – Visually Calming
If your child really can’t handle pets at all, then fish are a good choice. You’ll find that if you go somewhere with a large fish tank such as a doctor’s waiting room or a restaurant, your child may be “glued” to the glass watching the fish move about.  Gazing upon swimming fish has a very calming effect.

In my opinion, caring for fish is not maintenance free.  The downside is that the tanks need regular cleaning and the aquarium plus accessories have a lot of up-front costs. If you do go the fish route, consider a larger self-supporting tank with a lid to reduce the risk of your child pushing it over or putting undesirable objects in the tank.  If your child has frequent meltdowns which involve throwing heavy objects inside the house, then fish aren’t a good idea. Keep in mind, fish tend to die easily which can cause a bit of trauma for children. If you’re really unsure about fish, a fish screen saver will do just as well with smaller children.

Dogs - HuggingDogs – Man’s Best Friend
I can’t stress enough how valuable and suitable dogs are as pets. Children with various isms often find that friendships are difficult to maintain because of their social challenges. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can destroy a relationship. Dogs, however, do not care if you tell them that they smell funny. They don’t care if your sense of fashion is poor, if you have bad habits or constantly rock. Dogs are extremely loyal and can become your child’s best friend, a friendship that will last for years, bringing a great deal of peace and stability to your child’s life.

If your child is energetic and will be able to play quite a bit with your dog and take it for walks, then I’d suggest a bigger dog, like a Labrador or a Collie. These dogs are full of energy and are very playful.

Larger breeds offer certain benefits which a smaller dog simply can’t. I can remember as a child having a bad day, I’d sit on the steps and cry, or simply hang my head. My dog used to come and sit next to me and because of his size, I could put my arm around him and hug him. It calmed me down quite a bit.  My dog was my constant companion from the age of four to twenty-two.

Spot was always there for me throughout my childhood and into early adulthood.

Service & Therapy Dogs

You may not know this but service dogs exist for people with autism. They’re not just for the blind. Autism service dogs can keep a “runner” from bolting. If your child has a tendency to run off in public places, having his dog on a leash will decrease the likelihood of running off. If your child is overwhelmed and having a meltdown, some autism service dogs are trained to sit or lie on your child. This gives your child a little pressure, like a weighted blanket and can help them to regain control. Autism service dogs can be trained to do all sorts of other things too, like preventing your child from eating the wrong things, redirecting harmful or undesirable self-stimming behaviour and assisting with balance and disorientation issues. If you’re looking for a service dog, a good place to start is Paws with a Cause. If you need a smaller dog, they’ll be able to recommend one which is suitable.

Birds - PetsOther Pets
There are plenty of other pets which can be kept in smaller houses including birds, rabbits, mice, rats, gerbils and guinea pigs. While these animals are by no means service animals and you can’t wrap your arms around them, they can still provide plenty of redirection and calming input. Guinea pigs are especially good as they don’t move about much, can be very cuddly and are relatively low maintenance.

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – Terry Pratchett
I’ve purposely left cats out. It’s not that cat’s can’t make good pets, rather cats by nature are more of a loner type animal and aren’t always suitable for cuddling. Cats also seem to trip more allergy problems than most other types of pets because of their grooming techniques. Finally, cats are too well equipped when it comes to defensive measures and can do quite a bit of damage with their teeth and claws.

Similarly, I’ve left out reptilian and amphibious pets (snakes, lizards, turtles and frogs) as they often require a license and aren’t really a “playful” type of pet. With just a little extra effort, a pet offers incredible benefits to children with isms.

Whether you are seeking a loyal best friend who does not care about social mishaps or something soft and cuddly to offer tactile sensory input, pets offer tremendous therapeutic value.