Cats and dogs and fish and frogs, oh my!

People think I’m crazy when I tell them the types of animals I have in my house. I have 2 cats, a few fish and 2 albino claw frogs. Yes, the cats torment the frogs. Yes, it’s seriously entertaining to watch. But, what’s more entertaining to watch and learn from is the interaction between Isaac and all of the animals in the house.

It is no secret that a pet of some kind is good for a child to teach responsibility, compassion and empathy. For a special needs child, pets do  more than that.

For a special needs child, a pet doesn’t have to be just a pet – it can provide some serious therapy that only they can provide. A pet can provide a listening ear, a snuggle and serious skill building without judgment and sometimes the fight that comes with traditional therapy or homework.

In our house, pets have been a lifesaver in terms of teaching skills that Isaac is too distracted or impulsive to learn anywhere else.

The first of these skills is self regulation. As a sensory and ADHD kid, he has a super hard time with regulating his arousal state. He wants to, but sometimes, he just can’t bring his body back to where he knows it should be.

Enter our cat, Sabrina.

Somehow, Sabrina knew that just by laying on Isaac and his pile of blankets he would cool out and calm down. The two of them laid there for a good half hour and snuggled. He spent a good portion of that time stroking and talking to her…and chilling out.

The other skill that our pets teach Isaac is responsibility, and follow through.

One of Isaac’s chores is to feed the animals, or in the case of the cats, check their bowls daily and fill them if needed. At first, getting him to do this was a chore. We implemented visual schedules, the good ol’ pic sym on the velcro strip so he could remove it when he was done and even a sticker chart.

Now, he does it independently. He knows that it is his job to make sure the frogs and cats are fed. We still have a system to let us know that it was done so none of us inadvertently overfeed the animals-a sign on a velcro strip (with black backing) that says: “I fed the cats today” and one that says “I fed the frogs.”

Now, with the feeding of the animals, we are also teaching him about money! Yet another lesson that we didn’t think the pets could teach, but have been teaching! Each time he feeds the animals without us asking, he gets $.50. He tosses that in his piggy bank and is now saving his pennies, quarters, nickels and dimes for a giant Star Wars toy.  He is starting to realize if he doesn’t do the work, he doesn’t get the $.50, and he’s still that much further from the huge AT-AT he wants.

The final thing the animals teach Isaac is gentleness. Yes, it goes hand in hand with self regulation, but for a child who doesn’t realize how hard their touch can be, this is huge.

Thank the heavens we have two cats who are not only tolerant, but gentle and take a lot of mauling. They will, however, let Isaac know when they’ve had just about enough. He is learning the more gently he strokes the cats, the more gently he touches them under the chins, the more gently he scoops them up, the longer they will stay and hang around. He’ll even get the coveted purring and nudging for more!

We didn’t think a family pet could do so much, but we are thrilled that they have!

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