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Guest Post: Animals And Autism

15 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Guest post exchange day was yesterday, but really, with so many phenomenal bloggers in the same challenge, how could I pick just one? Today’s guest blogger, Sarah, focuses on an area very close to my heart: animals, their relationships with people, and how they can facilitate healing. She just finished her first year of the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at LSU-New Orleans. She is  passionate about animals and children and plans on integrating animals into her physical therapy practice after she graduates.

As a lifelong animal lover myself, I am drawn to Sarah’s blog like a magnet, and am thrilled that she agreed to write for me. Today, she shares with us how animals and children with autism can have a very special bond.

When people envision their perfect life with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence they also usually include a pet in the picture. After parents hear their child given the diagnosis of “autism”, often the idea of having a pet is questioned. In general, animals definitely provide many benefits to their owners, but as Kirsten recently reminded me “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” So what works for one child or family may not work with another.

The cool thing is that there have been several groups that have seen a lot of positive effects in children with autism after interacting with animals.

Max is one of Austin Dog Alliance’s “special dogs” available for adoption.

Austin Dog Alliance has group social skill classes where they use dogs to teach children with autism and Asperger’s. Some of the topics touched on in these classes include verbal and motor skills, interacting with and empathy for others, and appropriate behaviors both in and out of the classroom. These same skills can be achieved with a pet at home. The child can practice speaking to the dog and learn to recognize and understand the animal’s non-verbal cues. In doing this they are maintaining eye contact, which some people with autism struggle with. They can also learn to care about and for another living creature. This lesson can then translate to their interactions with other people.

Horse Boy Foundation brings kids in contact with horses to help them through what they call a “simple 6 stage process”. They’ve found that allowing kids to lie down on a horse’s back cuts down on their stimming (a repetitive movement that self stimulates the senses). Interacting with the horse is good overall sensory work while the actual horseback riding can be soothing because of the rocking motion. Again, giving commands allows the child to work on verbalization. I know that for most people owning a horse is out of the question, but there are several places that have horseback riding lessons where your child could get some of the same benefits.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V11E-N2pK_o (it’s a youtube video about the Horse Boy Method)

Lois Brady found that a potbellied pig named Buttercup works wonders with the children. She’s a speech language pathologist, so of course her focus is getting the children to talk. But she has found that her pig is great for sensory work because he has different textures in different places on his body. The best thing about him is that people don’t have preconceived fears about pigs, like they might with a dog or even a horse.

(Photo from: http://www.prweb.com/releases/animal_assisted_therapy/continuing_education/prweb9261001.htm)

Buttercup is a great example that really any kind of pet can be used to help with things like speaking, motor skills, empathy and self-confidence. Some people prefer to have an animal specifically trained as a service animal and that has its benefits as well. You can read my post about autism service dogs to learn more about them. The most important thing is to decide what animal (if any) will be a good fit for your family.

Check out more great posts from Sarah Allen on her blog, Animals Help Heal. You can follow her on Twitter @AnimalsHelpHeal.

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Out Of The Wasteland

9 Nov

Once upon a time, life was normal. I was a regular young woman with regular ambitions. I had a few friends, and although I was never a party-animal, I had a reasonable social life. I kind-of-but-not-really knew what I wanted to do with my future. Nothing was cast in concrete, but I did have something loosely resembling a plan.

One day, all of that fell apart. The events that led to the undoing of my life as I then knew it are not important. Let’s just say that things changed. I went through some experiences that completely changed the direction of my life. Although the events themselves were not always positive, they did ultimately lead me down a path to becoming a stronger, more resilient person than I might otherwise have been.

These events did, however, leave me emotionally raw. I ended up with a propensity to depression that has plagued me several times over the years. Sometimes the depression hits abruptly, as if someone has thrown a switch in my head. Sometimes it creeps up so gradually that I don’t even notice it until I wake up one morning to realize that it’s there.

The depression is always bleak and frightening. When it’s there, I feel as if I am trapped by myself in an emotional wasteland. I have this sense of having to travel over inhospitable terrain where no-one is able to reach me. Outwardly, I go through the motions of existence. I get up and go to work, I parent my children, I keep in touch with people enough to avoid letting on that something is wrong. But on the inside, I am barely making it from one day to the next.

In the end, though, I have a natural optimism that gets me through. Even when I am in the midst of my darkest hours, I operate under the belief that no matter how bad things might be, they have the potential to get better. And somehow – after a few days, a few weeks or a few months – I emerge from my emotional wasteland. I start to feel the sunshine on my face again. I notice the colours around me, and I hear the laughter of my children.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Sir, who gave me this prompt: Write about the character trait of your that’s the most frightening.
I challenged  Michael Webb with the prompt:You are walking in the forest and you trip over a wooden box. You open the box and find…