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‘My autistic son’s unique bond with rabbits’

‘My autistic son’s unique bond with rabbits’

Ruby Singh, who hails from West Bengal, on how rabbits have had a calming influence on her son Anujeet Singh, who is now 28

I used to wonder why my son would not talk like other children of his age, why he would not make any sound.

Anujeet was quiet all the time and liked being by himself. Even when we took him out to parks and playgrounds, he would not talk to other children or play with them.

Seeking answers, we moved to Bengaluru where the doctors told us that he had nonverbal autism.

When Anujeet was young, he would always stim (self-stimulatory behaviour) and flap his hands. I knew that these were involuntary movements, and it helps autistic children to cope with a change in environment, but at the same time, I was afraid that he would hurt himself. The biggest challenge was that he would bolt whenever he felt the situation was overwhelming for him and we did not know how to calm him down.

When Anujeet was ten years old, we noticed him running behind chickens and trying to play with them outside our apartment. He was intrigued by them and for the first time, we noticed him trying to communicate and engage himself in an activity. But we were in a flat at that time, and I could not get any pets.

After he turned 16, we moved to an independent house where we brought home two pet rabbits. He was so happy when he saw them and jumped in joy, flapping his hands and making a humming noise. He wanted to hold them, but he would apply too much pressure and the rabbits would try to run away.

My son is sensitive to loud noise, and hence we decided to get him the rabbits, which are docile animals. He liked the touch and feel of their fur. He would sense their pulse and, over time, realised he was holding them too tight and [so] slowly started to hold them gently without us having to teach him.

Ruby Singh with her son Anujeet Singh. Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K

But we would always monitor him while he was playing with the pets since we didn’t want him to harm them. If irritated, rabbits too can bite and run away. Someone always needs to be present while autistic children are interacting with the pets.

My son did not have an emotional connection with us, but we started to notice the connection that he was building with the rabbits. He would chase them on the terrace and pet them. He was very fond of them.

Over the years of interacting with the rabbits, his stims have now reduced a lot and we rarely see him stimming his hands.

The rabbits have helped him a lot in controlling his hand and finger movements. Holding them calms him down and decreases his anxiety and stress.

In Anujeet’s case, rabbits have had a calming influence on him, and he has been able to build a bond with them. His social, cognitive and emotional skills have improved a lot. Pets can really do wonders for children with special needs!

Pet therapy worked and helped my son, but along with it, we tried various other therapies — focusing on improving his motor, sensory, communication and cognitive skills — through different activities.

We are also trying occupational therapy where Anujeet sits outside a school for autistic children and guards it — which helps him improve his communication skills and his interaction with people.

(As told to Pragna L Krupa)

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