This is Mini, who is a 2.5 year old Siberian Hamster, cute eh? What if I told you mini saved my sons life? Maybe that sounds a bit dramatic…Let me explain.
Back in October 2016 my son was out of school due to anxiety. He was in theory going to a forest school interventions program but in practice the previous interventions he had been to had not understood ASD let alone PDA and had shattered my son completely and he had not felt able to leave his room other than to use the loo in weeks. On top of this he was barely eating or sleeping so I was really worried.
In an attempt to get him out of his room I had invited my brother and my niece to come and stay.
My niece is a year younger than my son and they have always been close, she is brave and confident and he is quiet and sensitive, they compliment each other and they share a wonderful sense of humour.
She was great, she showed concern for my boy but didn’t push him, she tried to tempt him out of his room but to no avail. She didn’t take it personally but she was worried about him after seeing him up in his room pale and staring at the ceiling. What he hadn’t said to her that he had said to me was that he wanted to die. He was then 10 years old.
She thought and thought and asked if he wouldn’t come out of his room for Oatey?
Oatey is his dog who my son was relied on for the last 4 years to calm him down after meltdowns, cuddle on demand, help him get to sleep and generally be a bit of an animal superhero in his own right. But in my sons current state Oatey was too much for him in much the same way people were a the time, their very presence a demand. I explained this to my niece.
‘Hmm’, she said, ‘maybe he needs a smaller pet he could cwtch with?’ (Did I mention she lives in Wales?).
At that moment I knew what I needed to do.
I asked my brother to watch my son grabbed my niece and we set off on a mission. In the pet shop she spent an age picking just the right friendly, not ‘bitey’ hamster she could find and we rushed home with her.
When my niece gently passed Mini to my son his eyes lit up, as we crept at of the room she whispered ‘I think he likes her’. After an hour he appeared at the sitting room door to show how she sat in his hand and didn’t run away. and tell us how cute she was over and over again
My niece got to play a little with my son and Mini the next day before going home and over the next couple of weeks my son came out of his room more and more.
Having this happy tiny creature who asked for so little bringing a little life and interest into his closed environment was just enough to crack through the anxiety.
Through Mini my son and I were able to gradually open up a line of communication and find a way forward over the next few months and really from that point he never looked back.
3 months on he was feeling better and decided Mini was too noisy to have in his room at night as she kept him awake now he could sleep and she was relegated to the living room. Oatey returned to my sons bedroom instead like he had before my sons mental health had declined, but Mini is still very much-loved and cherished by us both. His demand avoidance means I generally do the day-to-day care but he is always interested in her well-being and will get her out to play.
I don’t know where we would be without Oatey and Mini they are so much more than pets, they are therapists, furry family and comfort when times are tough.
Do you have a pet superhero? I would love to hear about your experiences with animals anxiety and ASD.