Reptiles are some of the most misunderstood animals on Earth. They’re not ‘cute’, and even the simplest reptile which one can own, the tortoise, could not be described as a beginner’s pet. In fact, if I were advising parents (and I know that some are most likely reading this blog), I would recommend that they buy a dog for their child instead of a reptile because dogs demand enough attention that they are easy to remember. The process of training a dog also might give a child revelations about parenting from mom and dad’s perspective, at their level. There are definitely draw-backs to reptiles. The members of the reptilian class of the animal kingdom have a unique psychology where bonding takes place very long-term. They don’t grow attached to their owners overnight or as deeply as dogs or cats do. They also carry unique diseases which can be transmitted to their owners if they are not handled in a sanitary manner. However, they can be useful as therapy animals.
A reptile can just ‘hang-out’ around someone’s neck in the case of a snake or on their shoulder in the case of a lizard. Experts do not recommend that such a thing be tried with parrots. This allows the animal to bond somewhat passively with their owner over time, as it becomes somewhat of an accessory. This can help draw Autistic people into conversations because people with an interest in reptiles will inevitably ask them “Why do you have that snake around your neck/ Lizard on your shoulder.” This opens up a conversation which the individual has some level of confidence engaging in- maybe it’s even their passion.
Reptiles can also teach body language. Tortoises will respond a certain way when they are picked up against their wishes. They’ll move their arms in ‘swimming motions’ which is basically their way of saying “put me down please”. When a tortoise is afraid, it will retreat into its shell from the world. While they are an intermediate level pet, as long as an animal therapist instructed the patient to wash their hands, they would be a good starting place for teaching body language because the body language of a tortoise is extremely obvious. Snakes will often coil around someone’s neck when stressed, so they can be a good form of therapy for people who suffer from anxiety. The therapist can put that person into a stressful situation, and tell the patient that if they become stressed or react to the environment negatively, the snake will too- so it’s not about them, just like it won’t be about them in the real world. Although reptiles are challenging and offer a steep learning curve, many people who own them would say that they are definitely worth the effort and they should not be overlooked for therapeutic purposes.