Alex Lowery speaks about autism

10 things about autism acceptance we can learn from dogs

Written on 21st Apr 2017 by Sylvia Lowery

The media is full of stories about how a pet and helped a child with autism, we have therapy dogs. There is the girl whose cat has helped her. Today I want to explore what we can learn from dogs in terms of acceptance and unconditional love.

Alex finds that Sooty helps him to relax and feel safe.

Alex finds that Sooty helps him to relax and feel safe.

 

Here are 10 tips we can learn form animals.

1. Dogs have no expectation of social rules. They don’t care if you give them eye contact. It matters not one bit if your clothes are creased or old fashioned. They have no need for table manners or holding a knife and fork in a certain way.

Sooty says, “knife and fork, what is that, I just use my mouth and it saves washing up.

2. Dogs are predictable, they like a routine. They don’t change the plans at the last minute. A number of individuals on the autism spectrum find that a routine helps them to feel calm and less anxious.

Alex says, “However, those with autism often take their routine more seriously than most. Many will see their routine as law, and something that has to be followed. Routines give us safety in an uncertain and confusing world.For example: it may be part of a person with autism’s routine to go to McDonald’s every Monday at 12:00 (this would be rather unhealthy, but that’s not the point) and if on one Monday, it turned out that they couldn’t go to McDonald’s (for whatever reason) this would likely cause the person with autism severe stress and anxiety. It may cause a huge meltdown or panic attack. It might even result in the person screaming. What can cause a stress through a change in a routine will depend on the individual. Also, some may be more effected by the change than others. It is very common for a person with autism to love their routine, and want it to stay consistent. I have had therapy in order to get used to some changes in routine.’

3. Dogs never say the wrong thing, if you are upset they just cuddle you or lie next to you and wait until you feel better. When did you last hear a dog or cat tell you to “calm down!”  No they don’t tell you that you don’t look autistic either. Sometimes we could learn to say less but be there for someone.

4. Dogs live for the moment, they don’t worry about the future. This is something we can all learn from, to accept each moment as it comes.

5. Dogs don’t have a concept of difference, each person is just that a person. They will accept you for who you are. I think one of the triggers for a person on the spectrum is a feeling of not being accepted. This causes anxiety and makes life harder.

6. Dogs have fur, I know this is a difficult one. But the soft fur can be comforting and make it easier for a person on the spectrum to cope with physical contact. Alex hates all physical contact but he like to stroke and fuss Sooty.

7. Dogs are straightforward. If they are pleased they wag their tale, if they want something they bark. They don’t say one thing but mean something else.

Alex says, “I am autistic, and like many other people with autism, I frequently find that I have a hard time understanding social rules. They are just extremely complicated and hard to follow. People seem to speak in this code language where they have to say certain things and are not allowed to say other things.

I feel the reason why those of us with autism find social rules complicated is because we see things very black and white. We have a very literal take on the world, which can often mean that we see things in a very logical and ordered way, and for this reason social rules are extremely hard for autistic people to understand. A lot of people have this code language that they use which isn’t very black and white at all. People will tend to say one thing, but really mean another. If you meet a friend somewhere and they ask, ‘would you like me to buy you a drink?’ What they likely mean is they want to sit with you and then they’ll buy themselves a drink and you will buy yourself your own drink. Somebody may tell you can call round to their house anytime you like when they don’t really want you to ever call round their house. They just say that because (I guess) it’s the done thing to say. Somebody might ask you a question, but only accept one answer. For  example, they might be wearing a hat, ask you what you think of the hat and if you say you don’t like it, they’ll get offended, so are unwilling to accept the truth as the answer. Basically…. Neurotypicals seem to have this code were they say a certain thing which really has a completely different meaning from what they’re actually saying, and all the fellow neurotypicals all understand this code.” 

8. Dogs give unconditional love, they always welcome you and are faithful. This provides a feeling of security and acceptance. Alex has ‘fuss Sooty’ on his brain in hand App for when he is feeling stressed. He finds Sooty is always the same with him and he talks to Sooty about his problems. Sooty is a good listener.

9. Dogs never patronise a person. They do not treat one person differently from another. They would treat the Queen and a homeless person in the same way.

10. Dogs never use unkind words or tease or bully. We can all learn form this.

Rosie King shares her experience of bullying, “When I started high school, while many people were very understanding and kind to me, there were some who didn’t take kindly to this childish glitching kid who cried all the time (I have to admit I was pretty annoying) and resolved to punish me for it.

It started with regular verbal abuse; I got all the standards: ‘retard’, ‘spaz’, ‘baby’, as well as other cruel insults regarding me and my family. I never fought back against any of these insults; for one thing, the kids doing it were often much bigger than me, and the ones who weren’t hung around with those who definitely were.”

 

This article is not meant to stereotype all dogs and we all know that each dog is an individual. Not everything written is this article will apply to every dog. 

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Organisations Alex has worked with

  • Autism Cymru
  • Chester University
  • Glyndwr University
  • National Autistic Society
  • St John's Ambulance
  • Welsh Government

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