For the Love of Animals

Dania Jekel, AANE Executive Director
Blog Post

This is my most precious piece of jewelry–not because of it’s worth, but because it was the first gift I received from my daughter. If you can see it, it’s a small, silver, blue-spotted ray. She gave me this ray to remind me of “The Year of Rays.” This was a year in which we went to every aquarium gift store, every trinket shop (this was before the internet), every store selling stuffed animals and bought rays in every form: pewter rays, cloth puppet rays, plastic rays…I imagine most of you understand this.

Last week, an older adult told me that in the 1940’s at age 8 he watched the Disney movie Fantasia, and it was the dinosaur scene that started his interest in dinosaurs. This newfound passion meant that he had for the first time a focus for his life, which opened a whole new world for him.

So many individuals on the spectrum have a strong connection to animals in some point in their lives. Whether it is forming a deep love for a household pet, or delving into every detail of an animal species, or getting involved in a cause related to animal welfare, the attraction is undeniable.

When I get a call about a child on the spectrum not sleeping, I might mention to avoid screen time before bed, create bedtime routines, but what I think really makes a difference, is when a child who has a special relationship to pet can cuddle and stroke it to reduce anxiety. For many kids on the spectrum, few things can naturally soothe and quiet the mind as consistently as the family dog or cat, or even a pet turtle or rat.

So why this overwhelming love of animals?

Here’s what I think:

Animals as pets:

  • reduce anxiety.
  • are completely accepting of who you are, quirks and all–much more than people.
  • are non-judgmental.
  • communicate directly, are not subtle or deceptive, and non-verbal.
  • have interesting personalities.
  • provide a wonderful sensory input for those animals that can be petted.

Animals as a special interest provide other unique qualities. There are lot of facts and information about animals.
There are certain animals which seem to catch the attention of those in our community: specifically, cats, dogs, owls and other birds, and reptiles of all kinds. I wonder if there is something about them that captures the inquisitive mind of those on the spectrum.

For those of you feeling alone or seeking connection, consider a way to bring animals into your life. I’m grateful for the many ways animals have enhanced the lives of so many people on the spectrum.