Tag Archives: stuffed animals

The Wonderful Thing About Tigger

My son has memorized the dialogue of many movies. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, the old Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers, various Scooby Doo adventures, Winnie the Pooh, and numerous other Disney films. Over the years I’ve often wondered if this ability to memorize movie dialogue crosses over into other areas of his memory. And it does, a bit. While it’s true that he can spell any word he’s ever read, and has an uncanny ability to remember dates and places of historical events, his memory for his own daily life generally isn’t as dependable.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I was curious if Nigel remembered how traumatic it was for him to be in them when he was younger, how his sensory issues were so extreme that all the noises of the grocery store were agonizing to him and he would scream and writhe on the floor. He did not remember a thing. It was as if his mind had mercifully blocked the painful memories. I thought perhaps he didn’t remember because the majority of those incidents occurred when he was mostly non-verbal, aside from his cries of “Go! Go!” mixed in with his screams.

Part of me was disappointed because I thought that his memories would be valuable for several reasons. For one, I think it would buoy his self-esteem to see how far he’s come. Also, it would be fascinating if he could shed some light on what made things so hard for him, how he felt, and what he was thinking. Of course, the answers to those questions are obvious (The sounds hurt his ears! He felt tortured! What was he thinking? That he needed to get out of there!), but I just know that there’s so much to be learned from him, from his experiences. And so I figured that if he couldn’t remember the difficult parts of his non-verbal days, he couldn’t remember the good parts either.

Enter Tigger. Tigger is pretty celebrated around here. I’ve mentioned before how Nigel’s stuffed Tigger (bought at Disneyland during my pregnancy) prompted him to write the first little note he’d ever written. The Tigger and Winnie the Pooh stories and videos have also taught Nigel about friendship. And Tigger is responsible for enabling Nigel to do the first imaginative thing he’d ever done. Nigel used to like eating frozen corn niblets. He wouldn’t eat them cooked, only frozen. I would pour them in a little bowl and he would eat them with his fingers. One night when he was four years old, I poured some in bowl and put it on the kitchen table for him to eat. While I prepared some toast for Aidan, Nigel got out of his chair and ran out of the kitchen. He came back a moment later with Tigger. He gently put Tigger’s face in the bowl of frozen corn niblets and said, “Eat” in his little voice, his voice that was actually forming a word, stoic even from the beginning. I was beside myself with joy.

Fast forward ten years. Nigel, now fourteen, still loves Tigger and sleeps with him on his bed. He came to me a couple of nights ago and told me that he wanted to feed Tigger some corn again, like he did when he was little. My spine tingled. “You remember that?” I asked incredulously. He confirmed that he did. He said that he remembered how he felt and what he thought back then, that it made him happy to feed Tigger, and that he believed that he was really eating the corn. He said that having Tigger around all these years helps him to remember something from so long ago.

“Maybe Tigger has a magical quality because he was a gift of love,” Nigel said. I told him that he was probably right. And then he said, “Love reveals its capabilities in unexpected ways.”

I had to turn away, not wanting him to see my eyes welling with tears. “Yes, Nigel, it certainly does.” And I realized that what he said might have been a line memorized from a movie. But so what if it was? He chose the perfect time to say it. And it was beautiful.

Autism and Creativity

The night was winding down. Dishes were washed, showers were taken, lunches were made (we shower and pack lunches the night before), and homework was checked. I walked back through the house, ready to return to working in my office, and I did my nightly perimeter check, shutting off lights and checking doors. A bunch of Lego and string cheese wrappers greeted me in the living room.

“Nigel,” I said as I walked by his room, “why haven’t you picked up your stuff in the living room yet?”

His response: “Can’t you see I’m making a Chimera?”

Some of you may recall about two months ago when Nigel removed the stuffing of several of his stuffed animals and collected the stuffing in a bag with the plan of making something else at a later date. I figured that this bag of stuffing, like many of his well-intentioned projects, would sit around forever and nothing would actually ever come of it. Over Winter Break, while he was at his dad’s house, I considered getting rid of it before he spread it all over the floor. His room is messy enough already. But for some reason I didn’t throw out the bag of stuffing.

And as I entered his room that night to try to ascertain what the hell he was doing, I saw the bag of stuffing on the floor, and the stuffing was profusely billowing out of it. Nigel was on his bed with one of his stuffed animal carcasses in one hand and a threaded needle in the other. He was sewing.

Nigel has done some sewing before, since a few years ago I taught him how to sew his Boy Scout patches onto his uniform. He has also sewn “bear hands” (gloves made from a previously stuffed bear) of his own design, and a few other minor projects. But his Chimera was quite an undertaking. He combined the body of a lion with a wolf’s head coming out of the back and an eagle’s head coming out of the chest, sewed them together, and then restuffed the body. A close look at the finished creature:

 And the proud creator:

Maddy, I’m sending him your way.

The Good Stuffing

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.