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Beyond Stigma: Understanding the Logic Behind Comfort Objects for Neurodivergent Children

My son is 17 years old and he wears a black Adidas drawstring backpack, housing two pink plush birds, almost everywhere he goes.

The Village knows them as Sara and Lara or The Grandbabies.

I am quite proud of The Grandbabies and share photos of them regularly.

Recently, a mother of a younger child on the autism spectrum asked me how did I become so comfortable with my son carrying his plushies in public.

She is attempting to wean her son from carrying his favorite plushies with him everywhere he goes because she is concerned about the social stigma.

That’s a valid concern for a parent and this is not the first time I’ve been asked this question by a mom.

However, this is the first time I’m sharing my answer in a public forum.

I first told her that I philosophically believe it is hard work being a kid.

The body and brain are growing rapidly during childhood.

And, children are in the constant position of trying to make sense of the world around them and understand their place in it, while navigating life with limited empirical data.

That’s challenging.

So, if being a kid is challenging (I know this firsthand because I was one a long time ago and I observe, study, and teach about them for a living), I deduce that being a kid with a neurodivergent mind, navigating a neurotypical world is extremely challenging.

Therefore, it is reasonable for me to assume that certain domains of My Child’s life are extremely challenging.

I don’t know how that feels because I’ve never navigated the world as a kid on the autism spectrum.

However, I do know that it is a fact that an attachment to inanimate objects is a characteristic of autism.

This is established research and observably evident by the number of children on the spectrum who keep a collection of things with them.

Now, I have high expectations for My Son. I expect him to earn good grades. I expect him to study effectively. I expect him to perform well in band. I expect him to advocate for himself. I expect him to assume his teenage responsibilities. I expect him to be polite. I expect him to make good decisions.

Generally, I expect him to be an all-around “good” person.

Meeting those expectations requires a lot of high-level decision-making, thinking, and performing on his part.

I also believe that people do their best decision making, thinking, and performing when they feel safe and comfortable.

Based on My Son’s detailing of his feelings, his inanimate objects make him feel safe and comfortable.

So, if I take his plushies away, and consequently, he no longer feels safe and comfortable…then it will become increasingly more challenging for him to do his best decision-making, thinking, and performing.

I want my child to always be able to do his best. My overarching goal for him is to be able to maximize his personal potential.

Therefore, I believe it is my job to remove any barrier that would prevent him from meeting that end.

If I take his plushies away, I will be doing the opposite of that.

I would be creating an additional barrier for him to navigate.

So, I explained to the mother that my decision to accept, embrace, and celebrate The Grandbabies is not an emotional one. It is a decision rooted in logic.

I want My Baby to WIN!!!

And, if carrying around two pink plush birds increases the probability of My Baby WINNING, then I’m sold…hook, line, and sinker.

Then, I added that many neurotypical people have comfort items.

I’m not often seen without my leopard shawl.

What many people don’t know is I have more than one of the very same shawl…because it brings me comfort and I was afraid of losing it.

Even in summer months, my leopard shawl is generally tied to my purse and no one has ever asked me to leave my shawl at home.

They just accept that leopard print is a part of what makes El Brown uniquely El Brown.

Just like I have accepted that My Son‘s attachment to inanimate objects is a part of what makes SDYM uniquely SDYM.❤️


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