Someone found this website yesterday by searching “autism + stuffed animals,” and I am not surprised. I’m sure I’ve previously made several references to Nigel having stuffed animals (yes, I just checked – mentioned in general on three posts), but I’ve never written about how attached he really is to them. And, I would venture to guess, he’s not alone in that.
I bought him his first stuffed animal when he was in utero. It was a 15-inchTigger, and he still has it, fourteen years later. A good portion of the stuffed animals he has amassed over the years are specific characters, including Kermit, Simba, ET, Gizmo, Mrs. Brisby from The Secret of Nimh (made with love by Grandma), Otis from Milo & Otis, Harry Potter (yes, a stuffed Harry Potter), and Kuzco in llama form (from The Emperor’s New Groove). Nigel also has a plethora of non-specific stuffed wild animals, including two bald eagles (one 18 inches, one 6), a fox, a wolf, a squirrel, an otter, a capuchin monkey, a mountain lion, a coyote, a bison, a tiger, a mammoth, and at least a dozen bears. The boy loves bears. In fact, he loves all of his stuffed animals. He loves them so much that every year when we attempt to purge his room of things that he has “outgrown,” he refuses to give up any of them.
And so we keep adding to the collection. After all, the Tigger prompted him to do the first imaginative thing he’d ever done. I still remember the shock and joy I felt as he held Tigger at the kitchen table with him and put Tigger’s face in his bowl of frozen corn niblets, pretending to feed him. He even said, “Eat,” in his little voice. He was four years old. I’ll never get rid of Tigger. He has earned a place of honor in our home.
Nigel’s stuffed animals have also been his friends. He has acted out stories with them, talked about emotions with them, and generally been comforted by them. They have helped him to sleep and helped him to feel less lonely. So imagine my surprise when I walked into his room a few weeks ago and discovered that several of the non-specific stuffed wild animals had been gutted. He had removed their stuffing and left all the carcasses strewn across the floor of his room. I noticed that he had put all the stuffing in a soft, knit bag and pulled the drawstring closed. Curious, I asked, “Why did you do that?”
“So I could make something bigger, and it would have the good stuffing of animals I already loved.”
In case you’re wondering, he hasn’t made anything yet. But he keeps the knit bag of stuffing on his bed, waiting.