Your stance on plushies/coping items?

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LtlPinkCoupe
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05 Jan 2014, 10:10 pm

Hello, everyone...I don't come to the Parent's Discussion forum often, but I was curious about parental reactions to their kids having favorite stuffed animals/plushies/blankets/ toys or other objects as "coping items" that they take everywhere with them in order to provide security, stability and companionship.

For instance, I was really anxious and had sensory issues even when I was very little, and nearly every photograph of me taken from infancy up to age 12 shows me with at least one or two plushies at hand. They were "friends" to me....soft, stable, smiling friends who were completely predictable...one of the only things in my environment that were predictable.

As I got older though, adults started trying to separate me from my plushies more and more, even though my need for their unconditional love didn't diminish with age. My mom tried to discourage me from sleeping with them, carrying them around ("You're too old for that," "Leave that in the car" ) and one time my stepfather locked one of my plushies in his car overnight. I never understood why it was suddenly "bad" for me to need plushies....I mean, they weren't hurting anybody, and lots of people I met thought they were cute, not childish. When I was little, there was a woman who worked at a bakery my dad and I would go to after ditching church early on Sundays (much to my mother's annoyance) who worked the counter and always asked me questions about the stuffed animal I brought with me that day.

Even as a 21 year old, I still carry around a few small plushies in my bag or in a pocket. The one I carry around the most often is a small dolphin named Dory. Dory is soft and has a familiar look and texture, and she keeps me from biting at my nails by giving me something to do with my hands. There's also a spot on her tail that is soothing for me to rub. In fact, I've heard of lots of adults who carry around their plushies and even photograph them during travels for photo journals. There's a group home for folks with intellectual disabilities in my neighborhood, and I've seen 20, 30-something-year-old men from the residency carrying their stuffed animals at community functions.

So, back to the question at hand, what do you think of plushies and coping/security items from a parental standpoint? If you say that you don't really care for them and persuade your kids to leave them at home, I won't judge you; I've just never understood why, really. I know that when I have Dory nearby, I don't bite my nails, withdraw, or sway from side to side as much in unfamiliar social situations.


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Washi
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06 Jan 2014, 8:55 am

For the most part I like/love them. My 5 y/o son's favorite lovey is a knit blanket that is now extremely tattered as much of it has unraveled and several times I've had to cut permanently gross and discolored bits off of the corners from where he used to suck on it. He still has it around the house but I don't let him take it out anywhere anymore partly because of the state it's in and because he would drag it on the ground then bury his face in it (or worse, suck on it when he was younger). My childhood pictures often feature me with a favorite stuffed animal too, but I didn't like taking them out shopping or anything like that because I didn't want to accidentally lose them or have something bad happen to one that wouldn't normally happen if I left them at home. I think it's healthy to learn to sleep and function without them so that if for whatever reason you don't have them anymore you can function, or if you accumulate so many that it's interfering with your living space you can get rid of some without it being too traumatic. I stopped sleeping with stuffed animals and got rid of most of them at some point in my teens or early twenties because I felt that was something I needed to do to "grow up". I eventually went back to keeping my old stuffed dog in my bed, then gave it to my son when he was born (good gross-blanket substitute). Then I fell in love with an elephant I saw in a store, my husband got it for me - he doesn't care if I sleep with it, and now my son and I "fight" over the elephant. :)



Last edited by Washi on 06 Jan 2014, 1:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

MMJMOM
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06 Jan 2014, 9:00 am

I love them! My son has favorites and he loves to take some with him wherever he goes. My issue with that is he forgets or leaves them and then he has a fit and cries. I have 3 kids, my own belongings, baby gear, drinks, meds, etc that I have to remember and it is too hard for me to keep track of plushies. Then his sis wants to bring some cause he is bringing and I have double the plushies to worry about...lol SO, I have implemented a rule that they can come in the car but that's it, they have to wait in the car. Its too much for me to remember all I have to and then the plushies too!

But, other then that issue, I have no issues with them at all! My son has every Mario plushie and sonic and angry birds, those are his favs of course! He play with them, cares for them, etc...he is 8 and I am fine with it!


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06 Jan 2014, 9:19 am

My 14 year old daughter still sleeps with the bunny she has had since she was an infant. Sadly it no longer looks much like a bunny, but she loves him. Having said that as a parent we began to discourage her from taking it with her when she reached school age - there were rules at school about bringing items from home and she accepted that. Once she reached middle school we made the rule that Bunny can't leave her room. This was more because she would bring him downstairs in the morning, lose him and then get upset at bedtime because she couldn't find him - it took awhile but eventually she adjusted.

I will say that if she had insisted on carrying a plushy after about 4th grade we also would have STRONGLY discouraged this - not so much because we had a problem with it, but because kids can be very cruel and she was already labeled as different - it would have been just one more thing for kids to pick on her about. I would imagine this was the thinking of the adults in your life. Unfortunately not every adult manages this type of thing very well and even with the best of intentions we can do something hurtful.

Having said all of that I will freely admit that as an adult well over the age of 20 I still need a teddy bear to fall asleep at night - I just can't without him - Luckily I am married to a very understanding husband.


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ASDMommyASDKid
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06 Jan 2014, 11:29 am

We actually had the opposite situation in that I have been trying for years to get my son to bond (with limited success) to plushies. I recently made him a custom plushy of a video game character and that is by far the one he has liked the most. He not only sleeps with it, but will carry it around the house with him. It makes us really happy! All the other ones he has liked have also been related to science or computers in some way, which is fine by me. He is 8, by the way, and is developmentally late with this, which is fine.

I would only discourage it, in certain contexts which would expose him to ridicule. If it is just going to be people (adult inlaws and relatives) harping at me to make him stop, I won't give a c***. I would only care if they directed it at him, or other kids might get on him about it. So far he has not decided to take it anywhere, and only does it at home, so it has been a non-issue.

I think parents who either don't buy into the diagnosis fully, don't really accept it, or don't know about it can have major issues with their kids not "growing up" on time. Part of it is that society is such that it reflects (poorly) on parents and people are nosy nellies about things. Many parents are very conscious about this, or have that same type of mind set and would do that to other parents if they saw that kind of thing.

My husbands' family in particular expect their kids to grow up faster in many ways than most b/c they expect them to pitch in with chores and $$$ ASAP and that was how they were raised. They think it is the best way to be raised. They also seem to expect boys to be "tough" and not cry, and stop doing baby things at a real early age, in particular. I already am pegged as a coddler, so it probably couldn't get much worse other than them having more ammo, so I do not really care.



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06 Jan 2014, 11:39 am

I'm 38 and still sleep with stuffed animals and own many stuffed animals. Last November I even got a 55" stuffed unicorn. Within the past couple of years someone had beanie babies at a yard sale for 50 cents each and I bough 100 of them.

If people think lugging around a stuffed animal is bad imagine what they would think if they heard about what I did. At 16 I was nervous about a doctor appointment so I brought one of my pet rats with me. I'm surprised they didn't complain about that. Compared to that a stuffed animal is no big deal at all. Plus I'm not even diagnosed with anything so they didn't really have any reason to be accommodating.



EmileMulder
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06 Jan 2014, 11:54 am

I have the same opinion about these as I do about self-stimulatory behavior in general. It's probably not harmful (unless it is actually causing physical harm), but it may be socially stigmatizing.

It all depends on the specific person, the coping mechanism, how much it stands out, and how much it will overshadow their other social difficulties. For example, if a 10 year old child has 100 verbal phrases or so, but does not speak fluently, then occasional hand flapping is not an important issue to address. The hand flapping will not be interfering with that child's ability to make friends and become gainfully employed, because the language skills are a much more essential thing to work on. The hand flapping may embarrass the parents when the child does it at a grocery store, however, given the other issues, it doesn't make sense to make this a priority, and care must be taken to avoid removing the childs' coping mechanisms without replacing them with anything.

If another 10 year old child speaks fluently, is completely mainstreamed and maybe carries a comfort item around, that seems a bit childish; it may be the thing that causes other people to look at that child funny. It may then be worth explaining to the child that there is nothing wrong with the item, or them having it, but that they may want to keep it privately, so that others won't think they're weird. Or you may want to work on getting a smaller substitute, so that it looks more like a key chain, which won't stand out socially. At this point the comfort item may be directly preventing a child from making friends, and should therefore be addressed as an issue.

The goals are to both help kids feel comfortable and safe (which these items may help them to do) and to help them become socially competent (which they may interfere with). It's important to strike the right balance for each kid. When just starting out with these items, it may be worth thinking down the road ...the giant teddy bear looks cute on a 4 year old, not so cute on a 14 year old. As a result, it may be worth opting for a hand sized teddy bear instead, if the child still responds to it.

One disclaimer - as an NT adult, I don't think people should be judged negatively for this sort of thing. It just is the way the world works sometimes. So sometimes we have to help children, especially those with ASDs learn how to fit in with society. It should be clear though: safety items are not wrong, but they may cause others to judge you. That's not necessarily fair, but it's how the world is.

One more thing - safety items also can create a dependence, which is fine in most circumstances, but can be problematic if the items get lost, or are not allowed in a certain setting. Again, it depends on the individual, if being away from the beanie babies causes panic attacks, then it may turn a minor inconvenience (leaving your bag in a restaurant) into a catastrophe.


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ASDMommyASDKid
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06 Jan 2014, 12:19 pm

EmileMulder,

Autistic kids (as you probably know) can become very attached to all sorts of objects, not just plushies. Plushies are just about as socially acceptable an object as you are going to find. I don't disagree that it would be problematic if you lose whatever that object is, but I look at that almost in the same way as I do about missing puzzle pieces, or things that do not line up right, and maybe I ought not to look at it that way, I don't know. Managing meltdowns is a larger and separate although not un-related issue in my mind.

Plushie attachment is considered a developmental stage for a reason, or at least that was what I was led to believe. Yeah, you can be dependent on it, lose it and get upset, but isn't that what happens when people die or move away or whatever... You cannot stay unattached from everything out of fear of loss.



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06 Jan 2014, 1:28 pm

I have never liked plushies because they scared me. As a child I used to think they were real living animals that had been killed and stuffed and they made me uncomfortable. When I got older I learned it was not like that but that scary feel when I saw plushies persisted therefore I have not liked them much. I have very few plushies and they're all plushies that were given to me by relatives. I have never bought plushies.
I don't think that sleeping with plushies even as an older person is considered weird. In my class there are all people around the age of 16-17 and many of them say they still sleep with plushies and no one ever teases them for that. On the other hand, people say that my not liking plushies is weird and in the past I was even teased for that.
But as a child I was very attached to action figures and I had many of them. I still do. I used to have many MLP and pokémon action figures. I also had soldiers action figures and dinosaurs action figures. I used to sleep with action figures once but I don't anymore. In my room there are still some pokémon action figures, my little ponies and dinosaurs. My parents don't seem to care.
I bring a MLP action figure of Twilight Sparkle with me in my backpack when I go to school, or in my bag when I go out of my house for whatever reason. My mother knows and doesn't think it is bad or immature. When she was 20 she used to go out with a doll in her bag and she is NT. My father is not NT and has never had any form of attachment to action figures, dolls or plushies (I doubt he even had any in his childhood, since his family was very poor). Also two of my friends know. Christine knows and doesn't think it is immature, since she likes action figures as well and still sleeps with plushies (she loves them). Also Harriet who's very mature knows it and thinks my Twilight Sparkle action figure is very cute and she has never told me that having one is immature even though she is not attached to action figures or plushies or dolls.



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06 Jan 2014, 1:37 pm

It may be different in different places but a child carrying a young kids toy around a mainstream high school where I live would be absolutely persecuted and for that reason I would discourage it.
I can't see it being an issue with mine though as neither of them have ever been attached to toys or blankets or anything to the extent of taking them everywhere - not even as babies. Actually my nt daughter used to have to take my spoons everywhere and I had to put a stop to that as she would always lose them and we never had any spoons when we needed them :lol:



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06 Jan 2014, 4:43 pm

ASDMommyASDKid wrote:
EmileMulder,

Autistic kids (as you probably know) can become very attached to all sorts of objects, not just plushies. Plushies are just about as socially acceptable an object as you are going to find. I don't disagree that it would be problematic if you lose whatever that object is, but I look at that almost in the same way as I do about missing puzzle pieces, or things that do not line up right, and maybe I ought not to look at it that way, I don't know. Managing meltdowns is a larger and separate although not un-related issue in my mind.

Plushie attachment is considered a developmental stage for a reason, or at least that was what I was led to believe. Yeah, you can be dependent on it, lose it and get upset, but isn't that what happens when people die or move away or whatever... You cannot stay unattached from everything out of fear of loss.


I agree with you on both points -
First if taking the object means constant meltdowns, then that balance between comfort and social acceptability has completely gone (and you wind up with neither).

Second - in most cases it's totally fine, and I would agree even into adulthood; not a big deal. I was just pointing out that there are situations where an object becomes so important to a person that it is like a compulsion to carry it with them at all times. They may be afraid that they will be unable to function without it, and this can cause them some serious problems when for whatever reason the object may become unavailable (either temporarily or permanently). There are also situations where people become so obsessed with an object that they can't focus on anything else, which can seriously interfere with their lives. The reason I pointed this out is because the original poster was asking why their parents discouraged the toys. I'm just offering some possible explanations for why they may have been trying to do the right thing when they discouraged the toys.


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06 Jan 2014, 5:15 pm

I would be terrified if my son brought his blanket to school or a stuffed animal because I would fear him getting teased about it and harassed. Bringing a toy to school, I wouldn't care as much since toys like toy cars would be more appropriate but it might get stolen so I can understand why a parent would have a problem with their kid taken a toy to school and would prefer to bring it in for show and tell and then take it back home after their kid is done showing it.

You can carry a plushie in your pocket and hold it in your pocket. No one will know what's in there.

I knew a girl why always carried her Nala around with her and she was a few years older than me. I remember it always confused me because my mom told me I was too old to be carrying a stuffed animal around and I told my mother at home about the girl and she acted like it was all fine which confused me more. Why was it okay for her but not for me?

I wonder if she was special needs or something but yet she acted perfectly normal. I even asked her mom why she carries it around and she didn't seem to know either and even the girl wouldn't tell me why so it's all a mystery and very confusing. Could she have been normal who liked carrying Nala around, I will never know.


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07 Jan 2014, 10:16 am

Both of my kids (son, age 12 and daughter, age 8 ) have plenty of plushies. My son does not bring them to school by choice as he realizes it draws negative attention to him and would rather forgo that. My daughter does not bring them to school because it is not allowed, except as a reward on certain days, then she does. My son hides them when kids come over (except his best friend, who doesn't have any, but doesn't care that my son does).

I have no problem with "stuffies" as my kids call them. None at all. If they want to have them into adulthood, then they should feel free to do so. If they wanted to carry them around with them, then I would have no problem with it, except the issue of things being lost and the resulting meltdown. The only thing that I would insist upon is that they recognize that carrying their stuffies around is unexpected (particularly for my son at his age) and that if he/they choose to do it, it will likely attract negative attention and that they will have to accept the negative attention as the unfortunate, but natural--in this world--consequence to their choice to carry stuffies around with them. To me it is as simple as that. Do what you want to do, but do not be blind to the consequences. If the benefits outweigh the consequences, do it. If they don't, then don't.

Emile, I want to challenge something you said. Not challenge in a bad way, but perhaps give you a different perspective or way to view it. I agree with your idea that depending upon kids' overall functioning, some things may be worth working on for one kid, but not really important to another. So I agree with your general premise. And I realize my "sticking point" isn't even really your main point, although I do think it is relevant to this entire discussion.

You did say something that struck me: " The hand flapping may embarrass the parents when the child does it at a grocery store."

I would like to suggest that if the hand flapping embarrasses the parents, that might be one of the first things to address. Children deserve to be accepted for who they are by their parents, unconditionally. I think the parent, in this kind of circumstance, needs to focus on working through why they would be embarrassed by this. It is the kid's way of self-regulating. I think parents embarrassed by things like this have their own work to do. Sorry if that steps on anyone's toes, but it is the way I feel.

The reason I think this is relevant to this discussion is because sometimes I think parents do things and say it is in the best interest of the child, when really it is to alleviate the discomfort of the parent. I don't think that our children should have to "change" to save us from embarrassment. I think that they should be helped to understand the perspectives of others, the potential consequences of their choices, and then left to make their own choices. Sometimes both of my kids choose to do things that will attract negative attention. They understand it will, and they choose to do it anyway. My job is to step back and to support them. It isn't about my embarrassment. It is about them learning how to navigate through a world that will never quite fit them right. They need to learn when to adjust/adapt, and when to choose not to. In order to do that effectively, I think kids need someone who will support their decisions unconditionally.

Of course, I am not talking about things that can harm others, or that are illegal. I'm talking about things like hand flapping and carrying plushies.


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07 Jan 2014, 12:28 pm

^^^ THIS



EmileMulder
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07 Jan 2014, 12:52 pm

InThisTogether wrote:
You did say something that struck me: " The hand flapping may embarrass the parents when the child does it at a grocery store."

I would like to suggest that if the hand flapping embarrasses the parents, that might be one of the first things to address. Children deserve to be accepted for who they are by their parents, unconditionally. I think the parent, in this kind of circumstance, needs to focus on working through why they would be embarrassed by this. It is the kid's way of self-regulating. I think parents embarrassed by things like this have their own work to do. Sorry if that steps on anyone's toes, but it is the way I feel.

The reason I think this is relevant to this discussion is because sometimes I think parents do things and say it is in the best interest of the child, when really it is to alleviate the discomfort of the parent. I don't think that our children should have to "change" to save us from embarrassment. I think that they should be helped to understand the perspectives of others, the potential consequences of their choices, and then left to make their own choices. Sometimes both of my kids choose to do things that will attract negative attention. They understand it will, and they choose to do it anyway. My job is to step back and to support them. It isn't about my embarrassment. It is about them learning how to navigate through a world that will never quite fit them right. They need to learn when to adjust/adapt, and when to choose not to. In order to do that effectively, I think kids need someone who will support their decisions unconditionally.

Of course, I am not talking about things that can harm others, or that are illegal. I'm talking about things like hand flapping and carrying plushies.


Great point! I completely agree. I meant to hint at something along those lines with the "may embarass some parents" line but, not being a parent, I didn't want to be too critical.

I am often the person standing with the parent and child in the store, trying to encourage the parent to relax and not worry about what others think. One suggestion I've often given is to carry an autism information card to hand out if they want when people give them dirty looks, to sort of turn that shame around. I find that after about 2-3 years of living with a kid on the spectrum, many parents get over any sense of embarrassment they once had...or at least it is overshadowed by anger, that others would judge their children harshly for things that are beyond their control.

That point about how sometimes parents are secretly motivated by that sense of embarrassment is important for the original poster to understand, though as it certainly may have played a role in their parent's decision making. Sometimes it's a mix of motivations, embarrassment and desire for social well-being, but to an outside observer it may just look like the parents are obsessed with conformity and making a child appear normal.

As you suggested, our goal should be teaching social competence, rather than enforcing conformity. In other words, kids should know how to fit in, but not be forced to fit in.


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