My son and cat have autism.
OK, maybe my cat doesn’t have autism, but there are definite similarities in behavior that are fascinating.
Kathy Hoopmann wrote the picture book All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome. She draws the comparison between children with Asperger’s and cats. Asperger’s is a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and those diagnosed with it are considered on the high-functioning side of the spectrum.
The book touches on some accurate similarities, but many are just a way of introducing the reader to a child with Asperger’s and also for children with Asperger’s to feel understood.
I’ve read the book, and as a parent of a son with autism, I think it’s a good read and a nice way to show the average person some of the common elements of ASD. As a cat lover, I think it’s downright adorable.
As someone who has a son with ASD and a cat, I thought it would be interesting to draw my own comparisons.
My conclusions are on a personal level and will probably be generalizations. No one cat and no one person with ASD have the exact same traits, of course.
Some of the commonalities I’ve found between cats and people with ASD are:
- Heightened senses
- Fussy eaters
- Affinity for routine and repetition
- Anxious with changes in routine
- Detail oriented
Changes in Routine
This is a big one. My son gets very anxious, upset, frustrated and sometimes angry when his usual routine changes. I find our cat is the same.
A good example of this is when my son and I leave the house. Bella can tell something is out of the ordinary because we normally spend a lot of time at home.
When we start putting on our shoes, she gets anxious. Meowing, rubbing on our legs, following us around. After we’ve left the house, my son starts getting snippy. We’re usually doing something out of his normal day, and it makes him anxious.
Recently, a family came to look at our apartment (we live in a unit above a store that is currently for sale). My son took a long walk and Bella was hiding behind the toilet by the time they arrived.
Senses Are, Well, Sensitive
People with ASD tend to have very sensitive hearing, taste, smell and touch. This sounds like most cats, doesn’t it?
If there’s a sudden loud noise, Bella will usually jump, run and hide. Now, my son doesn’t do this, but he will sometimes get angry. When he was quite young, he would usually burst into tears. He also can hear things, like a distant airplane, before I do.
My son doesn’t always love to be touched. He’s never been a particularly physically affectionate person. Deep pressure is usually more acceptable than light touches.
We’ve all heard of Thundershirts for dogs, I’m sure. It’s the same concept for people with ASD. The pressure from the shirt tends to help with anxiety just as it helps those with ASD. Weighted vests are used for people with ASD for that reason.
Cats also let you know in no uncertain terms when they’ve had enough petting.
Check out this awesome story about a woman who loves black cats:
Not all cats are picky about their food, but Bella certainly is. There’s only 1 type of canned food she likes. Even different flavors from the same brand aren’t good enough for her.
My son really dislikes trying anything new. If he likes it, he could eat it forever, almost every day. If I suggest anything new, even something as simple as pizza from a new restaurant, he’s very resistant.
What It All Means
If you have a cat, you might have a slightly better idea of what the world of someone with ASD is like.
My son is a huge animal lover with a particular love of cats. He has far more patience for Bella than he does for me. And she seems to love him as unconditionally as a cat can love a person.
Maybe they understand each other better as well. Sometimes I see Bella react or behave in a certain way, and I think I understand why — because of my son.
They’re both unique in their own way and have complex personalities that I appreciate.
They also drive me crazy. But isn’t that family?
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Kathryn Copeland is a lapsed librarian and a Master of Museum Studies candidate. She has a passion for helping people and animals, and she’s planning to launch into freelance writing and editing. When not thinking about museums and writing, she enjoys eating Haagen-Dazs, playing with her cat and spending time with her son.