animal friends and autism

Furry Animal Friends and Autism

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Friends? Will she have friends? In the whirlwind of thoughts that raced through my mind in the days and weeks after my daughter’s autism diagnosis it was that one that was the loudest.  It was that one that kept me up at night.

Every time she struggled at a birthday party or playdate this thought reared its ugly head. I wanted someone to see her loving heart, her caring ways and accept her quirks without judgement. The world was quick to label her as less. I just wanted one friend she could depend on and have fun with, because I knew that would help her thrive. 

Last year the friend I had been hoping for showed up in furry form. This wiggly, love-filled puppy was a reminder that the experiences we needed to help our kiddo navigate the world do not always come in expected forms.

Buster, as our daughter named her, was about to change our world in so many surprising ways. 

First was the fact that our daughter named the dog. Dolls and stuffed animals had always been called “Doll,” “Doll with red hair,” “Bear,” “Pig,” and, well, you get the picture.

Then came her first “Why” question. “Why is Buster eating my shoe?” and then a flurry of other “Why” questions followed. “Why is she eating that?” “Why is she barking?” We were amazed at the expanded language Buster inspired. In her eight years we had never even come close to getting her to ask questions about anything else.

She would cover Buster with blankets, try to get Buster to swing with her in the yard, shower her with kisses, hug her and tell her, “Oh Buster! I LOVE YOU so much!” She had found her very first best friend. A friend that didn’t bombard her with questions, didn’t mind that she sang more than talked, and that liked to share popcorn with her while they watched movies together. The connection they created is magic and transformed our daughter before our eyes.

She became braver, interested in trying new things like the play equipment at our local park, eating new foods, and volunteering to unload the dishwasher. The confidence from having a friend made her more interested in her peers. Thanks to Buster she understood better how to be a friend.

A few nights before the new school year, she completely melted down. In a flash Buster ran to her and snuggled on top of her. Snuggling in closer and closer with each sob until within fifteen minutes later, she was calm. That was a new record.

On the first day of school and every school day since, she holds firmly to Buster’s leash, and they walk to the bus. No tears, no meltdowns only giggles as the dog chews on her backpack straps. It is extremely hard to be anxious about going to school when your furry bestie is showering you in love and fun.   

The loving nature of animals can be a powerful medicine for our kiddos on the spectrum, and that medicine has given our daughter a friend beyond our wildest dreams.

Discover how to bring animals into your child’s life at our next Lecture Series – Therapy Animals: Finding the right fit for your family on October 4!

Author: Jen

Jen lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and daughter. In 2009, doctors and educators diagnosed her three-year-old daughter with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She has been navigating autism by becoming a passionate advocate for families and always seeing the humor in this journey.

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