Is my child lonely?

Hi all. My son is 3. His dad left me a year and a half ago for another women so we went through a very rough time but we are all settled and happy in our new life and his dad is still involved having him on a Sunday and over night on a Saturday every 2 weeks. He has a half brother (his dads other son who is 12) and he seems to really enjoy his company and his dads girlfriend has a 5 year old daughter who he also seems to get a long with very well. In our home it’s just me and my son. We play together and go for long walks in the park etc but he just has me for company. 

I've recently been advised that maybe getting him a dog would be a good idea. Service dogs are very hard to come by in our area so I’ve been looking into this myself (picking a dog with the right temperament and ensuring my boy bonds with the dog before we get him/her and getting him/her the best training).

Myself and my partner have no plans to have any children. I’m just worried he’s lonely and that another companion in the house might help him a bit with his a anxiety at bed time and also help to get him out a bit more. 

Does anyone have any advice on this? Perhaps someone who got a pet to help their autistic child and is it worth it? It is certainly not something I’m rushing into. It’s a very big decision and requires a lot of thought but I’m just wondering if anyone has any experience with this. 

Thank you

jen 

  • Hi Jen, I can’t speak for your boy, but I’m 51, I was diagnosed about 15 months ago and even though I’ve had pets, previously, I’ve never thought about them in the way that I am now. 

    I realise that I love to be by myself, and that’s ok. I also realise that I do love to be around other people, however, as much as I love that, due to my nature, and the way I experience the world, it’s simply not possible for me to live a stress free life being around people too often. 

    So, knowing what I now know, I realised that just because I can’t be around people too often, it doesn’t mean I don’t have needs. 

    So I’ve looked at my needs. And one is for companionship and also one is to be outside in nature. I love to be outside, but not more than I love to be at home, by myself, engaged in my special interest or just staring into space. 

    I have also realised I have a need to connect with others but again, as much as I enjoy doing that, I don’t enjoy it more than just being by myself at home. 

    So I’ve worked out, that when I’m ready, I’m going to get a miniature red poodle. You have to be careful with the ancestry etc, but if you get one with the right temperament, they are easy to train, they’re very obedient, they don’t shed hair and they’re not too big. They’re great companions and they will keep my active mind busy. You also have to brush them every night and have their hair cut regularly, etc.

    All of these things will force me out of myself and to engage with the outside world, to some degree. And of course I love walking and poodles can walk a fair distance, so they’re good for that as well and if I need to carry it, I can do that as well. 

    But it’s a personal choice. There are many ways to increase access to more social activity, getting a dog is only one. And I’m not doing it because I’m lonely, because I’m not. It’s to help meet to meet my need to intereact with the world, to some degree. I will do that through my work and other activities, but I’ve figured that getting a dog will force me to also keep to some sort of regulation or routine going for myself. 

    As much as I love to be by myself, I’ve figured that I surely wasn’t meant to live a solitary life, so it’s about meeting my needs for interaction and relationship with, what I call, the outside world, in a different way. And I’m thinking a dog will fit into that. Although I’m also a world traveller and live in other parts of the world at times, so I’m not sure I’m ready for a dog yet, but I can definitely see the benefits, in so many ways. 

    That Chris fella who did a program about his childhood love of his pets and his autism etc, might be something worth watching again or for the first time, if you haven’t seen it. I couldn’t even engage to that degree with a pet when I was younger. It really was just me and my little light in my little world. But I did have a big family, so that’s a big difference. I remember crying when our rabbit died but I didn’t understand why and I didn’t let anybody see me cry. 

    Does he have a tendency towards animals? 

  • This is a really individual thing so it's difficult to advise. Some autistic people really want friends but don't know how to go about it. Some autistic people just really aren't bothered about friends at all and prefer their own company. 

    I personally take a lot of comfort from animals and having animals always helped me. I was never able to have a dog but we always had rabbits and guinea pigs and just stroking them was very therapeutic for me. Bonus of a dog is it gets you out and about. For some autistic children a pet can be distressing though. The dog gets in their space. 

    How does your child interact with other people's pets? This can give a good indication of whether it would be good or not. I do know someone that got a dog for their autistic son but he really wasn't interested. 

    It may be worth looking at some pictures of pets with your son. You don't have to suggest you might get one as that would get his hopes up. Just show him the pictures and see how he reacts.  

  • We have a cat and a dog, my son tends to go to each for different things...

    ...the cat when he wants to be on his own and in his bedroom away from the world, I hear him talking to it and he gets an enormous amount of pleasure and comfort from him. The only trouble is the cat does go out the house so when I most need him to settle my son he is off catching a mouse.... so we got a dog!

    ...the dog for running around the garden with someone else, for playing with, for always being there to greet him back from school, if we let the dog (a dashound) upstairs I know he would talk to it in the same way as the cat and snuggle up in bed with it, I have seen him snuggle up to the dog in the kitchen and lounge when he is on his own. He gets an enormous sense of love from this little dog and a constant companion. 

    In my opinion having an animal is a wonderful thing as they will be a companion and a best friend for anyone. For my son we could not be without our animals as they are a lifeline to him and most definitely make him feel special and loved, he would never say he is lonely when he has his friend at his side or on his lap!

    Best wishes

  • I've always had pets - cats or dogs. I currently have a dog that appears to be a failed DNA experiment, so I ended up with different parts of Labrador, staffie, horse, kangaroo, cat & sealion.

    I tend to walk her around 3am so I don't bump into people. I don't mind much when walking the dog people saying hi or coming to play with her, the problem is she is a labrador sized staffie and thinks every other dog is there to play with her, and dog owners freak out when they see this huge dog running towards their beloved pet! This has caused the other dogs to get aggressive with her and bite her. She just lies down and takes it, but its heartbreaking to see.

    As for comfort, she is very tuned into my moods She knows when its play time, walkies, comfort or to just leave me alone. Most dogs I have had seem to pick up on these things - or I have just been lucky!