Most of us had a dog or cat when we were young. But what kind of pet is right for a child with a disability or special health care need? Our children don't always go with the status quo. For them, maybe it will be a bird, guinea pig, hamster, or maybe a turtle.
When you have a child with sensory issues, you may not know what they will be drawn to. It can be hard for them to form friendships with their peers, but it's been shown time and again how beneficial pets can be. A child with autism might not be drawn to a typical pet. So while Mom might be a cat person, and Dad likes dogs, a child with autism may want a feathered friend or something less hands-on.
It’s remarkable to watch their friendship grow, and with it, our children's emotional maturity. So think outside the box. Consider a pet you might not normally choose for yourself. If your child is able, take them to a pet store and watch what they are drawn to. You might be surprised at their choices. If you are concerned about crowds, call the store manager and explain what you are trying to do. They can advise you when the best time to come may be.
There are also groups that specialize in taking therapy animals to nursing homes or hospitals that may be willing to help or offer ideas on how to best introduce your child to animals.
If a permanent pet isn’t a possibility for your family, a therapeutic animal program might be a solution. And don't forget that shelters are full of animals looking for a second chance, and with most shelters, children and animals can be socialized together before the animal is brought home. Whether furry, feathered, or finned, a new animal friend may be just the thing for your family.
You can search for therapy animal programs by going to Find Services, Groups, and Events on this website.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.