Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A hamster called "Pudding"

I've never been one for hamsters.. cats and dogs yes, even guinea pigs and rabbits and I did threaten to wish for a gerbil if I couldn't have  kitten as a child, but hamsters have always frightened me a little. This feeling didn't benefit from being forced to have a "class hamster" as an NQT - my parallel got the fish tank as pet interest in her class, I pulled the short straw which turned out to be a psychotic syrian hamster.

Our second son decided a few years back that hamsters - Russian Dwarf hamsters to be precise - were his alter ego. There wasn't much mileage in coveting a polar bear, and despite several years collecting the fake cuddly kind he moved on to hamsters. With some trepidation we gave in three years ago and bought him a hamster, and it has been one of the best decisions we have ever made.

Each little furry friend has brought out the best in H, helped him more in terms of emotional and social development than any person has. I even started writing a book "Even hamsters do PE" for children on the Autism Spectrum (and yes, that is copyrighted lol) after being totally amazed at the success our little furry friend has in persuading H to join in PE lessons. After all, hamsters climb and swing all day long, don't they?



But his current sidekick deserves the greatest accolade, having achieved the impossible. Lacking in empathy skills, patience - and an understanding of time, reward schemes have never worked with H. Why cooperate in the here and now for something on the horizon? A possible, a maybe, such concepts are meaningless to many with Autism. We've tried every sticker chart known to man over the years with little or no success.

Until now. It seems we were focussing on the wrong person - or creature. H wanted to stop his hamster biting when he picked her up from the cage - she is the friendliest little thing once held, but a big hand diving into her cage seems to bring out the territorial side in her. Of course to H (who speaks "hamster", of course) a star chart for a hamster is just as appropriate as one for a child. "Pudding" ("Christmas Pudding" actually, a Christmas gift with a penchant for sunflower seeds...) now has her very own star/sticker chart and H is rewarding her a sticker for every time he picks her up without getting bitten. The connection between effort and reward has suddenly "clicked" and to our amazement and delight H has suddenly seen the light. If his little furry friend can earn stickers and reap the rewards (note to self, stock up on the sunflower seeds) for persistent effort he wants to do it too. For the first time we have 100% "buy in" on a reward scheme - he cares, and understands, and it's working.

I hope the hamster keeps trying, we're definitely on to something here. But if not, I guess that's another point of learning - what happens when you stop cooperating? For now though, I am in awe of this tiny creature with her deep, black eyes and twitchy whiskers. She's achieved what we could not. Hamsters rock - forget puppets helping children with Autism, I'm sold on the pet idea. Especially little furry "Pokemon in disguise"!  Who knows, maybe she can finish my book for me next?!





ANIMALTALES

27 comments:

  1. What a fantastic post! Thanks for sharing.

    Herding Cats


    http://seathreepeeo.blogspot.com

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  2. Love reading how Pudding the hamster is not only a wonderful little pet but is also helping your child. What a lovely post! #pocolo

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  3. It's wonderful you have such a friendly hamster and that he is communicating so well with your child. I have had two as a kid - one was suicidal called Licorice who kept throwing himself off the table, the other would bite and didn't like to be handled. My kids have guinea pigs now and I am madly in love with them! And they don't spin on a wheel all night Saying hi from #PoCoLo

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  4. This is brilliant. It really does show the therapy that animals/pets can bring :) Thank you so much for linking to PoCoLo x

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  5. Well done Pudding. It's good to see that it's not just dogs than can help children.

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  6. I had hamsters when I was young and loved them. Now my son is asking for one! It is great tp hear how pudding is helping your little one, you wouldn't expect such a little creature to have such a big impact!

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  7. I wholeheartedly agree with pets being a great benefit to children on the asd spectrum. It was one of the first things my sons' doctor suggested for him. We got a dog and he totally loves her. If he needs to chill out for a while he takes her for a walk and they 'chat'. I'm glad that your hamster is helping your son to connect the dots between behaviour and reward.

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  8. This is a lovely post. I have kept rats and gerbils, and love the cute look of hamsters. So glad H has a friend in the pet world, they bring so much learning for children and its warming to know that he is linking to his own learning through his friend. I hope Pudding gets her treats every day and stops biting. Our gerbils did that, we use to have to put our hand in the other end of the cage and wait until they were happy to be picked up.

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  9. Aww so cute. Glad the hamster is helping.

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  10. Aw he looks so sweet. I would also really recommend rats...I've had a number of pet rats through the years and they are the most gorgeous creatures - so friendly and wanted to have attention! Lovely post!

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  11. Wow, I am not keen on hamsters,. but, I can see the power of an animal on children. We have Alvin, our pup and he has made such a difference.

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  12. She is gorgeous! We've decided to go for kittens, likewise to help with the autism and give our girl something else to think about and take care of (not that she's particularly bad at that, to be honest!) and I'm wondering now about what other positive influences they could have :) Love that book idea btw, when's it out?! x

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  13. ahah how cute we had a hamster called fudge lol, mist be a food thing x

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  14. Arrr its amazing what a pet will do! I am pleased that in his own little way he is helping x

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  15. What a lovely post Kate. Amazing what good animals can do, great she's helping too. That photo of them together is just adorable - great eyelashes too (on your son, not the hamster!)

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  16. It is brilliant that your hamster is helping your son. We had a crazy Syrian hamster too x

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  17. Animals work wonders with kids full stop. I had lots when I was little and a hamster called Hamie too (not so original on the name front but I was 10). Sounds great that the world of reward charts has opened up to you guys. Way to go Pudding! x

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  18. What a lovely post - hamsters are amazing, I definitely miss mine - they didn't like being picked up either I had a hamster hanging from my fingers once or twice!

    Good luck with Puddings star chart I hope she soon becomes a star pupil!

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  19. What a fantastic post, that little hamster is worth its weight in gold (and sunflower seeds). We had a hamster once........my kids wouldn't look after it so she had to go :0(

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  20. aww, great the hamster is helping him! Very cute!

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  21. Wow that is such an inspiring story! Good luck with your book :)

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  22. aww such a lovely post! very cute x

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  23. hamsters are lovely... or can be lovely... they do make a great "small" friend

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  24. I love the idea of how you are getting Pudding to help H in taking part in P.E lessons. We have a dog and Storm is helping so much with the kids . He has helped stopped a lot of meltdowns x

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  25. A great post and so pleased that you found something that helps.

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  26. lovely post and I'm so glad to hear the sticker/reward chart is working and helping your son process information. We had hamsters when the kids were small and I'd love to have another one even though the kids have left home but we have a cat now and I don't think the two would mix

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