The Story of our family, and how Autism effects our daily life.
Autism & Animals
Welcome to the part of Dad Does Autism, where you can find all the posts about autism & animals. Plus any posts that have animals mentioned in them. Whether that be our pet Guinea Pigs, or my parents dog Mack, who Jack and Lily both adore. Or even my brothers dog Henry who they also love. Maybe even other animals we come across on our travels, this is the place to find those posts.
Animals can be so important for autistic children. As away to show emotion and have companionship, from an animal that won’t judge. I come from an animal loving family, and that has been passed on to Jack & Lily. It is so lovely to see how they interact with animals and the love they have for them. We hope you enjoy our posts about autism & animals.
If you follow me on twitter, you will likely know I get very excited by the birds we have nesting in our garden. Lily wanted to make a plastic bottle bird feeder, so she could feed them. I know we have at least 3 nests in the garden, 2 robin nests and one blackbird. I suspect there may be a fourth, but I’ve not confirmed it yet.
So we decided to make a plastic bottle bird feeder, I’ve never done it before so we went for a very simple design. We got a empty 2 litre bottle, and I cut out a big hole about 3/4s of the way down. Then I made two small holes about 3/4s of the way up, and put a stick through. Then tied some string to each end so it can be hung up. Lily being Lily, she wanted to decorate it. So I printed of some pictures of birds, for her to colour in. Then we taped them onto the bottle, before putting in the seed.
We didn’t have much seed, ideally it needs quite a bit more in the bottle. I’m also trying to find a tray for it to go in to make it easier for the birds, especially the bigger ones to get at the seed.
We also made a much easier alternative for young children to make. Lily pretty much made this one herself, using a piece of cardboard, bird seed and some peanut butter. Lily cut the card board into a square, then she mixed the peanut butter and bird seed in a bowl. She then spread the mixture on the cardboard, it’s as easy as that.
I used a whole punch to make a hole at the top, and tie some string through, so it can hung up if needed. Lily was really excited to put them out in the garden, I just hope the birds like them now!
Have you ever made a DIY bird feeder, if so how did it go? Did the birds use it? Let us know in the comments.
For those that have been regular readers from the start, you might remember that visiting the grandparents, was a regular Sunday routine before lockdown. We hadn’t been since the middle of March, but with the kids missing them, and especially their dog Mack. We decided we’d go over for a visit, and try and keep the kids to social distance.
It was lovely to get out to somewhere different for a change. My parents live out in the Derbyshire Dales, where it’s picturesque and lovely and quiet. So it’s always nice to go for a visit. When we got there I took a video of the kids seeing Mack, to see how excited they all were. To be fair, Mack is usually more excitable but it was a hot day.
It was nice of Mack to run straight past me, he did at least go to Lily. But his best buddy is undoubtedly Jack. All I’ve heard for the last 8 weeks is, “How do you think Mack is doing?” The kids have been so looking forward to this visit, it was great to finally do it.
A walk to the park
As it was such a lovely day, we decided to go for a walk to the local park. When we got there we had the park completely to ourselves. We played football, which was nice. I’m certainly out of practise, I was exhausted by the time we got back.
It was good to get out there in some fresh country air, on the sunshine. The kids absolutely loved it. I’m not sure when we will all go back again, we will see how things are. It is was really nice visiting the grandparents, and gave us all a boost.
Going out and about again
It’s been clear to see lots of people have been going out and about again, this was our step in that direction. We are all in pretty good health, so we decided it should be okay. I just had to remind the kids we still have to social distance before we went, which they were good at.
We won’t be rushing to the beach though, or any other tourist place that will be packed with people. It’s still too early for that in my opinion, and to be honest I don’t like crowded places anyway. So I’m in no massive rush to join the madness. How are you doing? Have you gone to see family yet? Or started venturing further afield. I’d love to hear how you are taking things, in the comments below.
Today I would just like to say thank you to everybody who left us a message, after yesterday post about the passing away of our pet Guinea pig Buffy. Whether you left a message on here, Facebook, Twitter or directly, we’re read them all and we appreciate them all. Usually I reply to each individual message, but I just feeling like it. So wanted to thank everybody together.
The house has felt strange, as anybody who’s had a pet Guinea Pig knows, they are extremely noisy. Since being on her own, out other Guinea Pig Biscuit has been very quiet, I just hope she gets back to her normal self soon. After the kids went to bed last night it was very quiet, and felt a bit weird.
More cheerful things
On a more cheerful note, the kids have been playing well together. Lily has been wearing me out, wanting to play all sorts of sports in the garden. Jack rarely wants to join in, so he just hangs around the garden doing his own thing. He has been making curry’s on his Pokemon game on his Nintendo Switch, I don’t know what curry has to do with Pokemon. But he wanted to make a real one, so he made prawn curry for me and him to have for tea, which was nice. Natalie and Lily don’t like curry, so had something else.
I could get her used to Jack making the tea haha. It’s not been an easy couple of days, but the kids seem to be holding up ok. So I will finish by just saying thank you again.
It is with a heavy heart, that I have to share some sad news. Yesterday one of our Guinea Pigs passed away. Losing a pet is always difficult, but with things being difficult at the moment it almost feels worse. Playing with the Guinea Pigs was one of the things, that was bringing a smile to the kids faces. Something that is proving more and more difficult, especially with Lily who is starting to look really fed up.
So to suddenly lose Buffy (yes she was named after my favourite slayer of vampires) has hit hard. We first noticed a lump on her back a few days ago. Natalie rang the vets and they said it was probably a cyst, and to keep an eye on it. Due to the lockdown they were only taking in emergency cases. Friday night through to Saturday morning she deteriorated quickly, so we got her booked in at the vets.
To be honest, when I put her into the travel box I knew she wasn’t coming home. There was barely any movement, and once inside she buried herself in the hay. It just felt to me like she was trying to hide away to die, which is an instinct in a lot of animals. At the vets she had a fit during her examination and died, the post mortem showed cancerous ovarian tumours, so at least she is t suffering anymore.
How the kids are taking it
Lily cried herself to sleep last night. I stayed with her until she fell asleep, it was hard to see her so upset. It was more than just tears, she got quite distressed. She is very sensitive, loves animals and gets very attached. I’m expecting more of the same over the next few days, before she settles down.
Jack also loves animals and gets attached, but has a lot of difficulty showing his emotions. I’ve talked about this, and his delayed processing before, click here to read about that in more detail. We told the kids separately, as Lily crying might upset Jack. So I was the one who told Jack. As expected he went very quiet, I could see he was upset as his legs were shaking rapidly. He asked how she died, which is normal for Jack. He has to know every detail, I assume that helps him process what has happened.
We talked about how Buffy would now see Fluffy again, who was the Guinea Pig we brought at the same time as Buffy who died a couple of years ago. As well as Dylan my parents old dog. My parents look after the Guinea Pigs when we go on holiday, Dylan used to sit on the grass watching them in their play pen before he died.
The grieving process
Losing a pet isn’t nice for anyone. Jack and Lily have added difficulties, Lily doesn’t really understand death yet, I don’t think Jack really does either to be honest. Then he has his emotional and delayed processing issues. The grieving process will be different for both of them, but we just have to support them both the best way we can.
Buffy has been cremated and will be coming home. We aren’t completely sure what to do yet, seeing the ashes might be too much for Lily, but Jack will probably need to see them to accept that she has gone. Losing a pet is the downside of the wonderful joy of having animals as part of your family.
We still have the one Guinea Pig (Biscuit) at home, but we are unsure what to do next. We’ve been told it could be 6 months before pets are on sale again. If we got another Guinea Pig there would be a big age gap, with one dying long before the other again. Biscuit will also have been alone for some time, and might not accept another one coming in. As I’ve said before in my Are dogs good for autistic children post, we’d like to explore the possibility of getting a dog. We will see how it goes.
It was back to the Sunday routine of going to my parents house this week. After not going last week. While I was there I found myself googling, “are dogs good for autistic children?” The reason being there has been talk of us possibly getting a dog.
It’s not something that is in the pipeline to happen immediately, and I just wanted to have a bit of a look at what information I could find. I found myself reading up on service dogs and therapy dogs. I’d heard them mentioned before, but this was the first time I’d read up on them.
It was fascinating, but we’d be looking at just getting a “normal” dog. I make no secret of the fact that I’d love to have a dog. I was brought up around dogs, and absolutely love my parents dog Mack. When I still lived with my parents, I used to go out with our dog Dylan for hours. I do miss that a lot.
We love animals
I come from a family that loves animals, and that’s certainly been passed on to Jack & Lily. They both love spending time with Mack, and my brothers dog Henry. But Jack especially, there are visible benefits from him being around a dog.
Although he gets excited around dogs, as far as anxiety goes, it calms him a lot. So would having his own dog keep him calmer at home? Having Dylan when I lived with my parents certainly helped with my mental health. Though it’s different with Jack, I do think it would help him too.
It would give him some companionship, something to love and look after. That unconditional companionship and friendship, is something I think Jack really needs.
Whilst also giving us all a reason to get out for some nice walks. Similar to how Jack never takes it out on his sister, when in a meltdown. He also never takes it out on animals that may be around.
It would be so helpful in so many ways. Unfortunately as we live in a rented property, it’s not as simple as just going and getting a dog. We have to get permission first, and it could involve an increase in rent. The rent is high enough as it is. So we will have to think about it.
We’d love to hear about your pets
There are lots of positive stories about dogs and autistic people, so that feeling of it being such a positive thing for Jack. Really makes me want to do it. I’d love to hear of any positive steories about autism and pets, or even negative ones where it didn’t work out. Perspective is always important. If your not living around autism, we’d still love hear about your pets, Jack and Lily always like to hear about people’s pets. So leave a comment below if you’d like to share what pets you have. Thanks.
The last day of the school holidays today and it was probably the best day. Jack and Lily have a special visitor come to see them. Normally we go to my parents on a Sunday. But as the car needs work doing on it. They were coming to our house instead, and bringing Mack the dog with them.
Jack and Lily were really excited to have Mack coming. They were also cooperative with that fact we needed to tidy up. Then hoover all the floors for Mack to come in the house. Which helped me out. The house was the best it had looked all week.
Jack even came downstairs to wait for them to arrive. After barely getting him out of his room the past two days. That was good. When they arrived Mack was running all over the place. He’s a very excitable dog, and Jack & Lily find him hilarious. He also likes a lot of fuss. Which Jack and Lily are both more than happy to give him. He also likes to sit and stare at our Guinea Pigs.
We all took Mack out for a walk over to the nearby football/basketball court. Jack and Lily out together is only possible with the extra help at hand. Lily wanted to play football with myself and grandma. Whilst Jack just wanted to hit a tree with sticks. It got them both some fresh air and tired them out. Which was good. Jack found a great big stick that he wanted to bring home. Apparently he will make good use of it tomorrow. I’m not sure I want to know what that means. It’s not very often Jack and Lily have a special visitor, we normally visit them. So they really enjoyed today, which was nice.
Even after my parents and Mack left. Jack stayed downstairs and we all watched Lego Movie 2 together which was really nice. It’s something that is happening less often. As Jack wants to be in his room or watch something Lily finds scary. So you have to really appreciate it when it happens. Sitting through an entire film together. With everything staying calm, and everyone enjoying it. Is a massive deal.
Later on when Lily has gone to her bedroom. Jack had put Netflix on and was watching old episodes of Goosebumps. He’s really got into since watching the film. He’s become fascinated with monsters. So goosebumps is an age appropriate way for him to watch that type of thing.
It’s another thing that he finds fascinating, because I remember it from when I was a kid. He wants to watch some more with me tomorrow. I was thinking of getting him some of the books. Like this anniversary tin I was looking at on amazon. But I don’t actually know what sort of reading level he is at. I just know he can read. I will have to test him. Maybe just get a single book like this one. See what he can do and go from there.
Lily’s had some mixed emotions about school tomorrow. She seems to be torn between wanting to go and not. There’s been some tears and I am expecting tomorrow morning to be difficult. But we will see how it goes.
Just a quick one today about how Jack’s struggling, and how Lily loves her Guinea Pigs. School holidays seriously eat away at your spare time, as I’m sure all parents know. Jacks still struggling a bit. He didn’t want to go out during his respite stay, which I can’t recall ever happening before. When he came home he wanted to go straight to his room. He hasn’y been out since.
I went and sat in his room for an hour, which he seemed happy about. We talked a bit and when I could get him away from Pokemon and YouTube. We did get a bit of two way conversation. He’s very interested in my website. Jack is obsessed with anything computer related, like most kids these days it seems. Jack and Lily both want to be YouTubers.
So I talked to him about helping me out on my website. His smile was wide and he nodded saying yes. I’m not sure exactly how and what yet, but I’ve known since I started he wanted to help, and I can only give a parents perspective on Autism. Jack and Lily are the ones who are autistic, and who people can learn the most from.
Lily loves her Guinea Pigs
Lily really enjoyed helping me clean the Guinea Pigs our today. Mainly because I did the cleaning, whilst Lily did the playing with the Guinea Pigs.
She did help me give them a wash and cut their nails. Doing a great job of holding them steady, which she was very proud of.
In other news, Jack’s DLA award came back. It wasn’t what we think it should be. So we are going to argue it. Which is yet more stress and work. It never ends.
Jack has been very keen for me to put the Snuggly’s on my website, he would tell you THEY have been very excited for it. So this post is about introducing the Snuggly’s to you. As you can see in the photo above, the Snuggly’s are three stuffed dogs. From left to right we have, Jasper, Fortnite and Minecraft or Crafty for short.
Jack has always liked his teddy’s. But two years ago Lily had a birthday party at Build a Bears. Jack didn’t want to go, but because Lily didn’t want Jack to miss out on a bear. We said she could make one for Jack. That was Minecraft the Dog. It started something we never expected.We hoped he would like his dog, it turned out that he absolutely loved it.
He is desperate for a real dog, but that is not possible in the house that we are currently renting. So we got some Guinea Pigs instead, they are called Buffy and Biscuit. We had another one called Fluffy who sadly died. Both children love the Guinea Pigs, but they are not as fun as a dog.
I had a dog when I lived at home, which stayed with my parents when I moved out. He was a Border Collie named Dylan, and Jack really liked him and formed a great bond with him as a small child. Dylan was very playful, and enjoyed lots of fuss. So he was perfect for Jack, who being the first child from me or my brother, and also going to school several miles away from home. Never really had anyone to play with. He was very upset when he died a couple of years ago. Last year my parents got another Border Collie called Mack. Both Jack & Lily love Mack, he’s just as playful and enjoys Justin’s much fuss as Dylan did. He will pop up in my posts regularly.
Back to introducing Snuggly’s. Jack is pretty much never parted from his 3 dogs, he takes them everywhere. He takes them to school everyday. They go with him to respite, and whenever we go out. To him they are like his comfort blanket, he feels safe and like he’s not alone when he has them. He did forget to take them on a respite outing once, and 10 minutes later he was back to get them.
At school they have become like the class mascot. When we visited the classroom during the Christmas fair, the dogs were out and about all over the classroom. One of his friends even painted this picture of them for him, which was really nice.
One time Fortnite’s ear got damaged, which Jack was a bit upset about. Jack is in a class of 6 or 7 very boisterous boys, so accidents happen. He accepted it was an accident, and after his Gran fixed the ear. Jack continued to take them to school, which was really good.
Interaction with his Dogs
Jack likes people to join in conversations with his dogs, which is why he’s. Happy with his classmates playing with them. Too him they need the fuss and playing which any dogs need. He likes to get you to communicate with them, 3 or 4 times an hour when I am with Jack. I will be asked how I think the Snuggly’s are? He will be holding them, getting them to jump around and wagging their tails. I always answer “they are snuggly”, and usually they get thrown to me for a snuggle.
Jack will get you to hold them, then ask them a question, and he will then expect you to answer for them. Usually it is something simple. Like “do they want to play? or “do they want a snuggle?”. Jack really enjoys these interactions, so that gave us an idea.
When Jack doesn’t want to, or can’t talk, whether that be he’s upset by a real life experience. Like when his Auntie passed away, or something has upset him from his games. Even when he’s having a meltdown. We started trying to communicate with him using his dogs. Not talking on these situations is not a choice for an autistic person, the anxiety and being unable to process his emotions. Leaves Jack unable to communicate how he would want to.
Helping to avoid meltdowns
We have had some success with this, I t’s not perfect, and it doesn’t work every time. Especially in a full scale meltdown, but he is more willing to communicate this way. They can have a calming effect on him. The key with meltdowns, as always is to recognise the triggers and get in there early. To prevent them from erupting before it’s too late, because m once he’s in full meltdown. It can be a long way back.
If you can do that. He can be distracted by his dogs and it will calm him. How long this will take, will depend on how high the anxiety and frustration has built up. To be honest I did feel a bit silly at first, I was like a ventriloquist with these 3 dogs. Trying to have very serious conversation, but acting like a bit of a clown. It’s what Jack needed though so I stuck with it.
The alternative is deep pressure, which possibly and quite often with Jack, leads to him fighting back. When he was little this was ok, but now he’s 12 and already bigger than me. I’m not small either! You need jack to be willing and compliant before you can try deep pressure, which is where the Snuggly’s come in.
Using them to get Jack to open up on difficult subjects
The really big breakthrough is getting him to communicate what is troubling him. What’s making him sad, or angry, or confused. This was done with the passing of his Auntie. When Natalie has been ill and when he has been unhappy. Both at home and at school we needed something, because we’d spent years with nothing really working.
This can be done either way. I started using the dogs to ask the questions, Jack would sometimes answer. Even if it was only with a nod or shake of the head for yes and no. Occasionally we have managed to get more out of him, but just getting the yes and no answers is a big step.
A lot of Jacks problems in the past we believe have been through frustration of not being able to communicate what he’s feeling. He is verbal, but uses a lot of echolalia. So what he’s understanding and what he’s able to say, are poles apart. To be able to find out his feelings, we need to be able to ask the right questions. The dogs have given us an effective way to ask, that Jack is happy with. Now it’s just a case of asking the right questions, to find the right answers.
How school are now using them too
Jack has been having one to one psychology sessions at school. We get sent a report of each one he has and , they have made for some interesting reading. Jack wouldn’t answer their questions, buteventually he did using one of his dogs. So now that’s what he does, just like at home they ask the question, and Jack uses the dog to answer. Again mostly nods and shakes of the head.
That is all for introducing the Snuggly’s. I don’t know how common this is with autistic children. I’ve certainly not heard much about people communicating this way. If you have, or something similar I’d love to hear about it. I’m always open to new ideas, and I believe any ideas that are working should be shared far and wide. Not every idea works for everyone, but you never know which idea will be the one that works for you.
There is a Tips & Strategies section, which will contain all posts that contain that sort of information. Whether it be ideas we have used, successfully or unsuccessfully, or ideas we have heard about and are looking to use. There is a list of 15 behavioural strategies on this website, that you might find useful too.
Once a month. Lily gets to go to a sibling group. It’s for children with brothers or sisters with Autism. It’s something else we get through Jack. Lily gets nothing in her own right. But it’s something she really enjoys and looks forward to. She usually spends the time doing some arts & crafts. We know there is at least one girl she talks to.
Unfortunately the sibling group was cancelled today. Due to not enough people attending. Lily was disappointed. She could really have done with it. After the way this weeks gone. I really hope this isn’t going to be a problem going forward. It already feels unfair that Jack gets to go out every week with rest-bites. Then twice a month with his over night rest-nite.
We try and do things with Lily when Jacks at rest-bite. But money is tight and we can’t always afford to go out. I know Lily feels she doesn’t get to do as much we Jack.
We did the usual go to my parents for dinner. As well as Mack the dog. The kids had my brothers dog Henry to play with. Who is staying with my parents for a few nights. So it was double the fun. We took them for a walk to the local park. Jack especially liked getting to hold Mack’s lead.
Jack took a video of Mack sitting on the park bench with him. He’s using TikTok. Jack loves creating videos on there. We didn’t really know what it was when he first went on there. We had some problems with him wanting to message everyone. So he can only use it on my phone. When supervised. So he can keep being creative. Which I think is important.
Jacks bond with Mack is great. He’s never any calmer than when he’s with him. Jacks love for animals and nature is really nice to see. Lily is growing up the same way. She told me today Greta Thunberg was her hero.
It was a nice visit overall. Unfortunately as Lily got tired. She became overwrought and got upset. This caused Jack to get angry. So I took him outside to try and calm him down. He was seeking deep pressure. To help him regulate his sensory needs and anxiety. So we pulled and pushed each other about for a few minutes.
In the distance we heard a dog bark. So I barked back. Much to Jacks amusement. So I ended up barking at this dog for 5-10 minutes. The things we do to help our children. It worked though, as Jack was ready to go back inside.