By Charlene Little, Contributing Writer
When my niece was small, she did not really care to talk to people. A later diagnosis would prove that she had autism, but we did not know it at the time. Her speech was suffering, and her focus was too. She spoke was able to speak very few words, and the ones that she could speak were not clear. We were at a loss as to how to get her to talk, until her doctor recommended that we get her a pet. He said that it didn’t matter what type of pet we got, just a pet in general would work. After debating hamsters, rats, cats, or dogs, we settled on getting her a dog.
We were careful about the type of pet we chose. After all, we would be doing most of the training and care of the pet, so it would have to suit everyone. We settled on a shelter dog. He was only a few months old, but you would not believe the difference he made in her life.
After a short period of time, she began to spend a lot of time with her dog. She began to talk to him, in her limited ability. She would take him outside and walk around the yard, teaching him everything she knew about the trees and the grass. She would lay and stare up at the sky and tell him about the clouds and the wind and the rain. Just seeing them together brought tears of joy to my eyes. A little girl, who had never really connected with anyone or anything, finally had someone who would sit and listen without judging her. Over time of talking to her dog, she was able to say more words than she ever had before. We were moved by the amount that her speech had improved.
Over the next few years, her vocabulary had expanded dramatically. We were able to have conversations with her, and she was able to provide us with answers. We were amazed at how great a pet was for her speech, especially since the dog was not able to initiate conversation.
Just simply having someone who was there to listen no matter what she said helped so much. A pet is never judgmental, and will comfort you when you are upset. Many children with disabilities need this more than anything in the world. A pet is also a protector, someone who will keep them safe and pull them from danger.
As you know, children with disabilities like autism, tend to wonder off. Last year, my niece tried to wonder off. We had only turned our heads for a few seconds. Her dog barked like crazy and grabbed her by the back of the pants. He dragged her back into the yard. We praised him and spoiled him rotten after that. We live only a half of a block from a large creek, and that was the direction she was going.
If you decide to get your child a pet to help them through their disability, please adopt a shelter pet. Shelter pets need your child, just as much as your child needs them.
About the Author
Charlene Little is the mother of three wonderful boys and a volunteer foster mom for her local animal shelter. She enjoys working with various breeds of dogs and cats in learning social behavior, training, and how to be the successful member of a fur-ever family. She enjoys studying animals' behavior and finding solutions to behavior problems that the everyday person can handle. She covers topics from various forms of aggression and small problem behaviors. Every problem behavior has a solution, and the solution is never to give up on your pet! Love, kindness, and small adjustments could be just what you need.
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