How Cats Have Helped My Son With Autism

These fantastic pets have aided in calming my son down and even inspired him over the years.

Even cats who are not trained therapy animals can help calm their humans down. By: AdinaVoicu

Our cat is not a therapy cat. She’s not even a good candidate.

But just her very presence essentially saves my son’s life.

My son has high-functioning autism, so it was never in the cards for us to own a therapy cat or dog. She was just our family pet. But she was just as important to us as any family member.

In the Beginning

We adopted our cat, Emma, from the Humane Society when my son was 3 years old. This was around the same time that he was diagnosed with an ASD (autism spectrum disorder).

Emma was initially a very timid cat. I had suspected she might have been abused before she came to us. Having a young child with somewhat unpredictable behavior made things rather stressful for her.

But we came up with some routines, one of which involved Conal petting Emma and putting his ear on her side to listen to her purr before he went to bed. All very comforting and calming for both of them.

As Conal grew up, so did Emma. They got used to each other. Conal was gentle with her, and she was quite gentle with him. She made him laugh with her zany personality, she comforted him when he was upset and she played with him when he was bored.

What would we do without our pets? By: Westfale

She lived until she was 21; my son was 23 when we had to say goodbye. Devastation does not even begin to cover it. She was our family — it was just the 3 of us before she died. We moved about 4 times, including a move across the country, so she was with us every step of the way.

Even though this happened just over a year and a half ago, I still have difficulty talking about this. I learned I have no patience for individuals who can’t understand people who grieve for their pets. This just tells me they either have never had a pet or they certainly haven’t formed any kind of emotional bond with one.

And Then There Was Bella

We knew there would be no other cat as unique and amazing as Emma, but we were lonely without a little furry body around the house. So we adopted a kitten and named her Bellatrix (Bella for short) — a rather unfortunate choice of name, as she can be rather naughty at times.

She’s very different from Emma. Feisty rather than gentle, stubborn, crazy, and she loves to attack me randomly. But we love her to pieces.

My son is an adult. He’s never had a girlfriend or a job. And he’s depressed. He doesn’t press his head on her side to listen to her purr. She doesn’t sit on his lap or enjoy being cuddled. This does frustrate him somewhat. But just her presence, her cat personality, is enough.

Just like Emma, she’s not a therapy cat, and as I already stated but must reiterate, she’s not even a good candidate. But with her adorable face staring at him with her version of affection, her soft fur and feathery tail, and her goofy antics, she keeps him happy.

Sometimes our presence can be therapeutic to our cats as well. By: g3gg0

Things Will Get Better

We still have our very fond memories of Emma. We talk about her almost every day. Obviously, the more time passes and puts a distance between the present and Emma’s death, it will get easier.

Bella helps in her own way. But there’s nothing wrong with grieving for our family member who was a huge part of our lives for so long.

We’re hoping to get a dog sometime in the near future when our living situation improves. A larger place and a little more money lying around would be nice. But in the meantime, Emma and Bella have inspired my son. He wants to dedicate his life to helping animals, particularly feral cats.

So, thank goodness for our feline friends. I think my son is a saner and gentler person because of them.

We didn’t need a therapy cat after all.  We just needed Emma and Bella.

***

Kathryn Copeland is a lapsed librarian and a Masters of Museum Studies candidate. She has a passion for helping people and animals, and she’s planning to launch into freelance writing and editing. When not thinking about museums and writing, she enjoys eating Haagen-Dazs, playing with her cat and spending time with her son.

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