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How to Kill a Fish

No, I don’t REALLY want to kill a fish!!  This article actually came to me one night when I was thinking about how sometimes we want our aspies to fit more into OUR way of being.  You might think I’m weird, but it reminded me of some things I’ve learned about caring for goldfish.  I think if we take a look at how to care for goldfish, we can learn something about caring for our aspies.

We came to be goldfish owners when Abby, my daughter who has Aspergers (high functioning autism), won one at a carnival.  Of course, Aidan, her brother, wanted one too, so we became owners of two…for a couple days.  We knew nothing about goldfish and soon our attempts to care for them in the way we THOUGHT was right failed miserably.  Rest in peace, Nemo and Goldie.  Fortunately, we took the time to learn what a goldfish needs, and now we have Tadpole, Frilly, and Fancy, who have happily lived with us for almost 2 years (and even survived a move with a 2-month interval in an apartment!)

So, what did we learn? How do you keep a goldfish happy and thriving?  Or, rather….how do you kill a goldfish?

  1. Change it’s environment too quickly.  Goldfish like things to remain status quo.  Likewise, most aspies don’t like changes in their routines and surroundings.  New jobs for adults, new schools for children, and even changing teachers can be very stressful.  Although we can’t avoid these things, it’s important to take extra care of your aspie during these times.

  2. Dump really cold water into a room-temperature tank.  A sudden change in water temperature can stress a goldfish so much that it can die.  Aspies are often extremely sensitive to extreme sensations.  Light touch/rough touch, bright lights/dim lights, loud noise/whispers, etc.  These types of sensory extremes can actually be painful for an aspie.

  3. Clean it’s tank with any other than water.  Goldfish are very sensitive to chemicals, so cleaning their tank with anything other than water can easily kill them.  My sister-in-law accidentally cleaned her salt-water tank after using hand sanitizer and killed every single fish.  Oops!  Aspies often have sensitivities to foods and chemicals.  Some have food allergies, but others are intolerant to certain types of foods.  Most people have heard of gluten sensitivies – many parents of aspies have found that avoiding foods with gluten can really help reduce certain physical and behavioral symptoms.

  4. Over feed them.  It’s so much fun to feed fish – goldfish are especially social, and it’s so tempting to feed them often to see them swim over and say hi.  Unfortunately, the uneaten food becomes toxic and the water and is very bad for them.  Now, I’m not suggesting that you avoid overfeeding your aspie (well, I guess that’s good advice for ANY kid).  What am I implying is that we neurotypicals can sometimes overdo our affection and verbal interactions, and can really overwhelm our aspie.  Even though we crave that interaction from them, we need to realize that these things can REALLY stress their systems.

  5. Put too many goldfish in one tank.  Goldfish typically need a LOT of water per fish – we only have three in our 72 gallon tank!  I don’t know many aspies who like crowds, do you?  It’s important for us to be aware that our aspies need their space and make sure they get plenty of time to destress with some private down time.

So, in case you decide to get some goldfish, now you know what NOT to do!  As for your aspie, make sure you recognize what your aspie needs every day, versus what you may THINK he/she needs.

Jodi Carlton is a professional autism consultant, with 15 years experience in behavioral health, and also mother to a teen with high functioning autism (Asperger’s).  She and her daughter have been providing Asperger’s education since 2014 at  Jodi also provides consultation services for families, nationwide.  She, additionally, offers online courses and webinars to professionals, families, individuals, and anyone who wants to learn more about autism.  

For more information, visit