Pet Therapy for Aspergers Kids

Man’s best friend can truly be your "Aspie’s" best friend, according to some studies on the interaction between pets and Aspergers (high-functioning autistic) kids.

Many moms and dads are surprised to see the connection between their youngster and pets. You might see it happening spontaneously — just when you are wondering how to help improve your child’s communication and social skills, you notice that he acts playful, happier, and more focused when around a friend's pet. Or perhaps you have heard about the profound impact pets can have on some Aspergers kids from another parent. Whatever prompts you, it may be time to introduce your Aspie to the world of pets.

Being around household pets or having structured contact with pets can be a great addition to treatment for kids with Aspergers. There are many reports from both parents and clinicians that interacting with pets, formally called animal-assisted therapy, can offer both physical and emotional benefits to these kids.

Animal-assisted therapy can be as simple as bringing a family pet into the household - or as structured as programs that offer horseback riding or swimming with dolphins. Interaction with pets can help Aspergers kids become more physically developed and improve their strength, coordination, and physical abilities. More importantly, many of these children derive much joy from their relationship with pets, which can help them have a better sense of well-being and more self-confidence. Pets can relate to Aspergers kids – and Aspergers kids (who have a hard time relating to peers) can really relate to pets.

While more research is still needed to determine the effects and confirm the benefits of animal-assisted therapy specifically for kids on the spectrum, a number of studies have suggested it can help. In the 1970s, researchers began studying how interactions with dolphins affected kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). They found that being around dolphins increased the children’s attention, enhanced their thinking, helped them learn faster – and retain information longer.

More recently, one study looked at the effects of ASD children interacting with dogs. For this particular study, kids were exposed to a ball, a stuffed dog, or a live dog under the supervision of a therapist. The kids who played with the live dog were in a better mood and more aware of their surroundings than the kids who were exposed to the ball or stuffed dog.

If you are interested in animal-assisted therapy for your Aspie, talk with your child’s doctor. There may be horseback-riding, dolphin-therapy, or other animal-therapy programs in your area that the doctor could refer you to.

If you are ready to make the commitment of bringing a pet into your home, you may want to consider a service dog that has been specially trained to work with ASD kids. These dogs can be wonderful additions to families and can even accompany kids when they are away from home (e.g., school), helping to keep them calm and comforted.

Pets quickly become a treasured member of the family, offering love and companionship. And for the family that includes an Aspergers boy or girl, the rewards can be even greater.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

Aspergers Children and Sibling Aggression

"My son is an 8 yr old fraternal twin. He was diagnosed with ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder in the summer of 2016 and was diagnosed with autism (high functioning) in the summer of 2018. He is the oldest of 5 boys ranging from 8 to 14 months. My question is: How do I keep him from physically attacking the baby when he gets frustrated? This has only been happening physically since September of last year, but verbally has always said he hates the baby, wants the baby to die, etc. since he was born. I know it has to do with him feeling he's not getting the attention he wants, but with 5 kids, the youngest being of an age that is very demanding, I don't always get to focus on the 8-yrear-old as much as he would like."

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Self-Help Strategies: 25 Tips for Teens on the Autism Spectrum

“I'm dumb.” “Nobody likes me.” “I can’t find any friends.” “I can’t talk to girls.” “I’m such a nerd.”

Do any of these statements sound familiar? Are you used to putting yourself down? If so, you're not alone. As an Aspergers (AS) or high functioning autistic (HFA) teen, you're going through a ton of changes. And as you change, so does your image of yourself. Lots of teens have trouble adjusting, and this can affect their self-esteem.

Here are some self-help strategies to help you rid yourself of negative, defeating self-talk:

1. A positive, optimistic attitude can help teens with AS and HFA develop strong self-esteem - for example, saying, "Hey, I'm human" …instead of, "Wow, I'm such a loser" …when you've made a mistake, or not blaming others when things don't go as expected.

2. As one Aspergers teenager said, "Parents just don’t understand" (understatement of the year, huh?). It may seem like there’s no way your mother or father will be able to help, especially if they are always nagging you or getting angry about your behavior. The truth is that parents hate to see their children suffering. Parents may feel frustrated, because they don’t understand what is going on with you or know how to help. Many moms and dads don’t know enough about the disorder to know how to deal with it. So, it may be up to you to educate them. You can refer them to a website, or look for further information at the library.

3. Family life can sometimes influence self-esteem. Some mothers and fathers spend more time criticizing their teens and the way they look than praising them, which can reduce the teen’s ability to develop good self-esteem. So, if your parents are overly critical, tell them that you need some encouragement from time to time. They may not realize they have been coming down hard on you.

4. For many teen on the autism specrrum, common strengths include high intelligence and a strong interest in at least one area of narrow focus. While this narrow focus can have its drawbacks, it can also be harnessed as an asset in many ways. For example, a lover of video games may become a computer programmer someday.

5. Identify which aspects of your appearance you can realistically change and which ones you can't. Everyone has things about themselves that they can't change and need to accept — like their height, for example, or their shoe size.

6. If there are things about yourself that you want to change, do this by making goals for yourself. For example, if you want to get fit, make a plan to exercise every day and eat nutritious foods. Then keep track of your progress until you reach your goal. Meeting a challenge you set for yourself is a great way to boost self-esteem!

7. If you learn to be kind to yourself and avoid judging yourself, you will find that what you practice and what you apply from self-help techniques can and will be very helpful.

8. If you’re depressed, you may not feel like seeing anybody or doing anything. Just getting out of bed in the morning can be difficult, but isolating yourself only makes depression worse. Make it a point to stay social – even if that’s the last thing you want to do. As you get out into the world, you may find yourself feeling better.

9. If your feelings are uncontrollable, tell yourself to wait 24 hours before you take any action. This can give you time to really think things through and give yourself some distance from the strong emotions that are plaguing you. During this 24-hour period, try to talk to someone—anyone. Talk to a parent or a friend. What do you have to lose?

10. It is important to realize that a lot of what "special needs" teenagers do differently, or the ways in which they may think differently, can be positively framed in realizing their capability to function in and through what is a different ability.

11. Knowing what makes you happy and how to meet your goals can help you feel capable, strong, and in control of your life. A positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle (such as exercising and eating right) are a great combination for building good self-esteem.

12. Making healthy lifestyle choices can do wonders for your mood. Things like diet and exercise have been shown to help anxiety and depression. Ever heard of a "runners high"? You actually get a rush of endorphins from exercising, which makes you feel instantly happier. Physical activity can be as effective as medications or therapy for depression, so get involved in sports, ride your bike, or take a dance class. Any activity helps! Even a short walk can be beneficial.

13. Many teens on the spectrum exhibit extensive knowledge of a specific interest and therefore are capable of major accomplishments.

14. One of the major aspects of self-help is learning more about self-acceptance and respecting differences, to the degree that you understand the ways in which you are different from the “neurotypical” teenager.

15. Regarding your body-image, recognize that your body is your own, no matter what shape, size, or color it comes in. If you're very worried about your weight or size, check with your doctor to verify that things are OK. But it's no one's business but your own what your body is like — ultimately, you have to be happy with yourself.

16. Some AS and HFA teens may become depressed, lose interest in activities or friends — and even hurt themselves or resort to alcohol or drug abuse. If you're feeling this way, it can help to talk to a parent, coach, religious leader, guidance counselor, therapist, or an adult friend. A trusted adult — someone who supports you and doesn't bring you down — can help you put your circumstances in perspective and give you positive feedback about your skills and abilities.

17. Spend time with friends, especially those who are active, upbeat, and make you feel good about yourself. Avoid hanging out with those who abuse drugs or alcohol, get you into trouble, or who make you feel insecure. It’s also a good idea to limit the time you spend playing video games or surfing online.

18. Stress and worry can take a big toll, even leading to depression. Talk to a teacher or school counselor if exams or classes seem overwhelming.

19. The AS or HFA teen is NOT disabled; rather, he is “differently abled.” The key is changing the way you think about difference and being the one that is different.

20. Understand that self-esteem is all about how much people value themselves, the pride they feel in themselves, and how worthwhile they feel. Self-esteem is important because feeling good about yourself can affect how you act. A person who has high self-esteem will make friends easily, is more in control of his or her behavior, and will enjoy life more.

21. What neurotypical people call “dysfunction” can be turned into your own understanding of many different ways that you actually DO function.

22. When you hear negative comments coming from within yourself, tell yourself to stop. Try building your self-esteem by giving yourself three compliments every day. While you're at it, every evening list three things in your day that really gave you pleasure. It can be anything from the way the sun felt on your face, the sound of your favorite band, or the way someone laughed at your jokes. By focusing on the good things you do and the positive aspects of your life, you can change how you feel about yourself.

23. You can create change in your life just like anyone else. Change for some teens on the spectrum means personal growth and evolution in understanding and learning. For others, it might be more about finding productive and workable compensatory strategies.

24. You may be tempted to drink or use drugs in an effort to escape from your feelings and get a "mood boost", even if just for a short time. However, substance use can not only make depression worse, but can cause you to become depressed in the first place. Alcohol and drug use can also increase suicidal feelings. In short, drinking and taking drugs will make you feel worse—not better—in the long run.

25. You might be surprised at how many other AS and HFA teens suffer from anxiety and/or depression. You are not alone, and your negative emotions are not a hopeless case. Even though it can feel like your unwanted emotions will never leave, they eventually will.

Here's what one parent had to say about her HFA teen: "In our family, we embrace the 'nerd' thing. Hang out with other nerds, watch TV shows with nerds. Being a nerd is OK. I have raised 5 kids, I would much rather have nerdy kids than 'cool' kids :)"

Resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

What is the best treatment for teens with Aspergers and HFA?

“My husband is ashamed and embarrassed that our oldest son has autism (high functioning) and is not what he calls normal. If my husband knew that I was typing this, he would become very irate and the yelling would start between the two of us as he does not like it when I try and seek help. James is 15 and in the years gone by He has called him a retard to his face, he even used to hit him across the back of the head. James does not seem to get along with our 13-year-old and often hurts himself as well as our other son. Because of this, I try not to leave the two of them home alone. The other evening, I went to visit my parents for two hours leaving them with their dad. Apparently, the boys started into each other and instead of separating them and talking with them, he told the oldest with the problem. ‘I wish you would just beat the shit out of him and teach him a lesson’. When I found out about this, I became very irate and tried to explain to Michael [husband] that he just gave James permission to beat up his brother. He does not really understand right from wrong at times. So now I wait for the day they fight and he says, ‘dad said I could’ without realizing the damage he could cause or the consequences. My husband refuses to seek help, says he reads up about what is going on but I find that hard to believe otherwise he would know better how to deal with issues. Is there anything you can suggest in the way for treatment for James? I can’t change his dad but maybe I can get James some help for his disorder. I am starting to think that my feelings do not matter and I need to put my children first and remove Michael from my home so that our eldest will have a home that understands him. Even our 13 year old understands him better than his own dad. ppls help!” 

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