Susan's Blog

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Beam me up, Scotty

Yesterday we were up in New Hampshire visiting Ned’s dad and stepmom.  They have a new cat, almost a kitten, the black kind with the white markings.  His name is Scotty, and he is really friendly.  Still, that didn’t mean much to Nat.  As soon as he saw the cat, he backed away, saying, “Nooo.”  His strong and certain “No” is very striking.  Innocent and confident at the same time.  He hears over and over that these pets won’t hurt him, but it just doesn’t get in.  He tenses up and he struggles to wrench himself free, even when I am gently holding his hands telling him it’s okay.

As a little guy Nat didn’t really notice animals.  I remember taking him to farms, zoos, to animal movies:  nothing.  He knew what animals “said.”  He knew Floppy Bunny was a rabbit and that Fuzzy Minken was a minken (monkey? bear? lamb? we just don’t know, but Nat called him Fuzzy Minken and that was that.).

The fear of animals has nothing to do with his autism.  And I don’t think autism has anything to do with his stubbornly insistent fear in the face of all explanations and evidence that he should not be afraid.  I think what’s happened is that this is yet another awakening of Nat’s.  His animal switch went on.  He’s aware and he’s afraid.  He is aware of danger now; I can see it when he rides his bike, the way he swerves to the side to avoid cars.  But to get him to understand that most people’s pets are safe is a hard thing to do.

Max and Ben played a lot with Scotty, getting him to jump up and chase stuff.  Max really loves cats these days, I think because Hannah turned him onto them.  She has four.  They watch kitty videos together pretty often.  Anyway, Max was in love with little Scotty.  We all were, except for Nat.

At one point we were sitting in the living room watching something on tv, and Nat was in the armchair.  Max was standing next to Nat. I became aware that Scotty was moving a lot back and forth because Nat kept fidgeting.  I also became aware that Max had his hand right near Nat. and he would lay it right on Nat’s shoulder, saying, “It’s okay Nat,” every time Nat tried to leap up. Nat would settle right back in his chair as soon as Max’s hand went to his shoulder.  I’ve never seen Max and Nat interact like that, ever.  I have never seen Max being tender to Nat, and Nat responding.  It’s like the brother bond switch just got turned on — in both of them.


This is a timely piece for me for two reasons. We just took our two kids, one with moderate autism and one with mild, through the Great Adventure safari for the first time this weekend prior to going on the rides. Zach, our milder child, was absolutely enthralled. Our older son acted as if he was being tortured, with real tears and a steady drumbeat on my seat every time I slowed down for a closer look. He didn’t like zoos either when he was young, but I always try to expose him to things anyway. The truth is, the kid just doesn’t care about animals, and nothing’s going to change that fact!

My youngest child is the first and only smaller child my son has shown any interest in, ever (he has always preferred older women). Zach actually makes Justin laugh, it is beautiful to see. It’s never too late for connections to form, glad it’s happening for your two sons.

— added by kim mccafferty on Monday, August 2, 2010 at 10:48 am

You know, this may be a comment that you don’t want to hear, and if so, my apologies. But since I have some experience with this, I’ll share with you what we did. My son was terrified of dogs, like ridiculously terrified. We couldn’t even go to someone’s house if they owned a dog. So, after many upsets and meltdowns regarding dogs, I decided we needed to get a dog. We did (about 4 years ago) and now my son loves dogs. There was definitely a warm-up period when our dog first came home with us. But it didn’t take long. A couple months after we got our dog, I overheard my son say to him, “I love you like a brother.” It really changed his experience with all animals and I think our dog was and continues to be a big source of growth for him.

Now me? I could have lived my whole life without a dog. But I did it for the kids and I don’t regret it, despite the work involved in pet ownership.

Just our experience.


— added by stacey on Monday, August 2, 2010 at 11:07 am

Thank you, Stacey. That really gives me some hope; maybe some day!

— added by Susan Senator on Monday, August 2, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Hi there I am new to your site and wanted to tell you I think it is great! I am a mom to six children (and another one due in Feb 2011) and two of my boys have aspergers. I found it interesting that your son has a fear of cats. My aspie son Joshua is almost 11 years old and has an increadible fear of cats and dogs. It doesn’t matter what we do or say his fears have not gone and he has had them since he was about 3. I have often wondered if they were related to the aspergers or not as he has so many anxities because of it (the aspergers) it is hard to tell. However, I have given up trying to convince him not to be afraid. If the day ever comes he will surely let me know. LOl Thanks for a great site!

— added by Chantel on Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Lots of autistic children are afraid of animals, dogs particularly. I think it’s the unpredictability of their movements and the barking. A kitten is small and quick, now here, not there. They jump, scurry and bat at things. For someone who’s really into routine and predictability, animals are a guaranteed freak out. Maybe an older cat, one that just curls up and snoozes peacefully, would be acceptable for Nat.

— added by Ruth on Friday, August 6, 2010 at 9:30 am