Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Fun Side of Nick

Blog #106~ Pets and Children with Special Needs

Blog #106~ Pets and Children with Special Needs

Having a pet in the home can be beneficial for a child with special needs. Pets can boost mental and physical health, alleviate stress, be soothing and reduce anxiety. For a child with special needs, a pet provides unconditional love and affection along with helping a child become more social. In addition, having a pet in the home can teach responsibility and empathy. Feeding and caring for a pet allows a child to shift the focus to a pet’s needs. 

I witnessed this first hand with Nick. My 20 year old son has Down syndrome and autism.  His speech is limited. He uses a  picture book to communicate his wants, needs and feelings. On several occasions he has handed me these two icons:

This is our cat Miss Mellie of 17 years that passed away…..

Mellie Sad Icons

For as long as I can remember, there has been a tabby cat in my life.

Me with Tiger back in the late 70’s……

Tiger and T

When Nick was first born, we took him to get screened for the early intervention program. One of the questions they asked was, “What other family members were there?” They were pleased to hear this included an older brother and a cat. Both of them would help Nick become alert and engaged in the world. His brother could shake toys to get him to look up. A cat with a bell on his collar would also get Nick’s attention. Each time he would look up it would strengthen his neck and trunk. This in turn, helped to fight the low muscle tone associated with having Down syndrome.

Nick, Hank and Woody our cat….. (You can see Nick’s low muscle tone as he is propped up against his brother)

Woody and the boys

Woody was my faithful friend since college and lived to be 17.  Several months later, we adopted Miss Mellie. You can read all about Nick and Miss Mellie’s relationship in the archives under the category, “The Fun Side of Nick”.

Nick thought she made a great task strip for his PECS icons…..

photo (117)

Now,  we are in a new chapter having recently adopted a new kitten from the shelter.  For more information click@…needs-families   She has been here for a few weeks and is settling in well.

We decided to name her Kibbie……


Kibbie is a 5 month old tabby.  At first she was jumpy when Nick made his loud noises. But like the rest of us, those stimming sounds and yells are becoming white noise to Kibbie as well. (Well for the most part) 🙂  I am working on getting Nick to dangle the wands and throw cat toys for her to fetch.  He is also serving her food dish each evening.  My heart swells when Nick plants kisses on her head.  I posted a video last Friday on the Facebook Page (Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism).  There is also a video of the kitten playing fetch posted the week before.

It looks like the two of them are getting along nicely……… (yes we like taking sleeping photos in my family)

Kibbie and Nick

According to Brain Balance Centers, (, “The right family-friendly pet may be just what your child needs to better cope with daily stressors and other overwhelming sources of stimulation. Owning a pet may help ease these daily anxieties and help to better facilitate socialization and understanding. It may also benefit a child who struggles with sensory, social or behavioral issues.”  I look forward to sharing the new adventures of Nick and Kibbie with you.  Stay tuned for this and most likely a third installment of “Stuff On My Cat”.  Thank you for reading and sharing Nick’s world (and humoring me when I write about cats).  That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂




Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

2 thoughts on “Blog #106~ Pets and Children with Special Needs

  1. Deeeeelighted to see you named your little kibbie kitty… I mean your kitty kibbie… Lol! Pets do add souch demension and love when we r not around… My boys also have grown a respect snd appreciation for the lives of animals… And that builds a strong heart muscle!! Nick has a huge heart because of all your kibbies… I mean littyes!! 😝😁😀hugs!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s