Autism and Pets

We have a new kitten, who is probably 3 months old. He is generally very good with the kids — he can take all the abuse the kids give him, but he won’t let them push him around.

He doesn’t bite or scratch maliciously, but like all animals, if he’s cornered being agitated and not happy about it, he will lash out.

Which brings me to the meltdown of the week.

Jonah was playing with the kitty (named Russell) much like in the video here. Jonah likes to feel Russell purring and will often try to put his head on him and use him as a pillow. Many times, Russell will oblige because he just doesn’t care.

But if he’s in a particularly playful or rambunctious mood, he will play pretty aggressively with Jojo, with mixed results.

This time, Russell was in a rambunctious mood. I heard Jonah start to cry in annoyance, which usually means Russell is not doing what he wants him to.

But when I went over to intervene, I saw Russell reared back about to full-on pounce on Jojo’s face.

So, in my “pet-owner” commanding voice, I yelled, “RUSSELL! NO!!”

Russell stopped.

Jojo, however, went through the roof.

My tone of voice had been angry and disapproving and I had yelled the word “NO”, which he understands. He didn’t feel he had done anything wrong (which of course, he hadn’t) but he thought I was cross with him for no particular reason.

The meltdown was pretty epic. Not only had he done nothing to deserve the yelling, Daddy (the person he counted on to calm him down) was the one who had caused all of it, so in Jojo’s book, Daddy was the one to blame.

Luckily it wasn’t bedtime or night time, but it’s the first time he’s drawn blood (just a fingernail scratch on my forehead), which reminded me of course that his fingernails needed to be clipped, which will trigger another one of these.

It makes me anxious about meltdowns when he gets older.

I calmed him down by sitting him on my lap on a rocking chair with his Christmas laser lights on in his room. Every time I tried to empathise with him by saying “I know, buddy. I know.” he would hit me again because he thought I was again telling him “NO.”

I had to revise to “I understand, buddy.”

It can be hard owning a pet when one of your kids doesn’t differentiate scolding, and reacts to your tone of voice. Most times to make pets comply, you have to use a stern tone of voice.

Next time, I might just use the spray-bottle instead.

Do you guys have any stories about your kiddos and pets?

Jason Reynolds
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Jason Reynolds

Jason is a freelance photographer and graphic designer. He is also a parent of Jonny (9) and Jonah (4) who was diagnosed with Autism in December 2016.
Jason Reynolds
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