Autistics and our Fur Family

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[Image description: The author Christopher Whelan cuddles with his black and white tuxedo cat, both are looking at the camera]

Autistic people have difficulty picking up social cues, often communicate nonverbally, follow our own intuition, benefit from sensory stimulation, and require a safe home which will support our well-being.

Pets do not have social cues.  They communicate almost entirely nonverbally, and do not speak a language that people understand.  They follow their own leads, and their own intuition.  Pets are warm, soft, and cuddly.  And they protect us and keep us safe.

Pets and autistic people are a perfect match for each other, and maybe even a better match for each other than neurotypical people and pets.  Pets build routine into our lives; the need to give them food, water, exercise, clean and appropriate toileting, play time, and cuddles mean that the routine of caring for a pet builds structure into our lives.  These routines are critical to our functioning and our ability to get-up-and-go.  Some days it is hard for me to find the mental energy to get out of bed, but my cat Kaguya is hungry and she is meowing at me to get her something to eat.  Once I am out of bed, and I have fed Kaguya, it is easier for me to follow the rest of my morning routine, because I have gotten it started.  I am no longer laying in bed worried about all the things I have to do today, I am already working on completing the list of tasks I need to do.

Pets have no bias or prejudice, and do not discriminate based on ability or disability.  Our fur family gives us love without conditions, loving us for exactly who we are without a need to change ourselves.  Kaguya would love me whether I was autistic or neurotypical; she loves me for who I am.  Kaguya does not shame me for my interests, pathologize my behaviour, or call me hurtful names.  Because she accepts me for who I am, it is easier to accept myself for who I am.

I have read stories about dogs that bark when an autistic child is overstimulated and in meltdown, and the familiar stimulus of their beloved dog barking helps the autistic person to regulate their feelings.  My own cat, when I am overstimulated, climbs onto me and sits down, applying her body weight onto me and purring.  The weight, the warmth, and the purring vibrations help me to regulate my feelings.

The inclusion of animal family and friends into the lives of autistic people brings so much joy into our lives.  A friend we can rely on to love us unconditionally is key to good mental health and wellness.  Our fur family helps us maintain our health, accept ourselves, and grow as people.

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