Jack has been very keen for me to put the Snuggly’s on my website, he would tell you THEY have been very excited for it. So this post is about introducing the Snuggly’s to you. As you can see in the photo above, the Snuggly’s are three stuffed dogs. From left to right we have, Jasper, Fortnite and Minecraft or Crafty for short.
Jack has always liked his teddy’s. But two years ago Lily had a birthday party at Build a Bears. Jack didn’t want to go, but because Lily didn’t want Jack to miss out on a bear. We said she could make one for Jack. That was Minecraft the Dog. It started something we never expected.We hoped he would like his dog, it turned out that he absolutely loved it.
He is desperate for a real dog, but that is not possible in the house that we are currently renting. So we got some Guinea Pigs instead, they are called Buffy and Biscuit. We had another one called Fluffy who sadly died. Both children love the Guinea Pigs, but they are not as fun as a dog.
I had a dog when I lived at home, which stayed with my parents when I moved out. He was a Border Collie named Dylan, and Jack really liked him and formed a great bond with him as a small child. Dylan was very playful, and enjoyed lots of fuss. So he was perfect for Jack, who being the first child from me or my brother, and also going to school several miles away from home. Never really had anyone to play with. He was very upset when he died a couple of years ago. Last year my parents got another Border Collie called Mack. Both Jack & Lily love Mack, he’s just as playful and enjoys Justin’s much fuss as Dylan did. He will pop up in my posts regularly.
Introducing the Snuggly’s
The importance of Jack’s relationship with the dogs, (which you can read more about in my post – Are dogs good for autistic children?) is it shows his want for companionship. He has a nice friendship group at school, but due to him having to travel 20 miles to school. Due to that being the closest one that was suitable, after he was excluded from his first school (Our Special School horror story, explains that if you don’t know the story). Outside of school he doesn’t have any friends, apart from one child he sees at the place he goes for over night respite. He will play with Lily sometimes, but I know he feels lonely and wants more friends.
Back to introducing Snuggly’s. Jack is pretty much never parted from his 3 dogs, he takes them everywhere. He takes them to school everyday. They go with him to respite, and whenever we go out. To him they are like his comfort blanket, he feels safe and like he’s not alone when he has them. He did forget to take them on a respite outing once, and 10 minutes later he was back to get them.
At school they have become like the class mascot. When we visited the classroom during the Christmas fair, the dogs were out and about all over the classroom. One of his friends even painted this picture of them for him, which was really nice.
One time Fortnite’s ear got damaged, which Jack was a bit upset about. Jack is in a class of 6 or 7 very boisterous boys, so accidents happen. He accepted it was an accident, and after his Gran fixed the ear. Jack continued to take them to school, which was really good.
Interaction with his Dogs
Jack likes people to join in conversations with his dogs, which is why he’s. Happy with his classmates playing with them. Too him they need the fuss and playing which any dogs need. He likes to get you to communicate with them, 3 or 4 times an hour when I am with Jack. I will be asked how I think the Snuggly’s are? He will be holding them, getting them to jump around and wagging their tails. I always answer “they are snuggly”, and usually they get thrown to me for a snuggle.
Jack will get you to hold them, then ask them a question, and he will then expect you to answer for them. Usually it is something simple. Like “do they want to play? or “do they want a snuggle?”. Jack really enjoys these interactions, so that gave us an idea.
When Jack doesn’t want to, or can’t talk, whether that be he’s upset by a real life experience. Like when his Auntie passed away, or something has upset him from his games. Even when he’s having a meltdown. We started trying to communicate with him using his dogs. Not talking on these situations is not a choice for an autistic person, the anxiety and being unable to process his emotions. Leaves Jack unable to communicate how he would want to.
Helping to avoid meltdowns
We have had some success with this, I t’s not perfect, and it doesn’t work every time. Especially in a full scale meltdown, but he is more willing to communicate this way. They can have a calming effect on him. The key with meltdowns, as always is to recognise the triggers and get in there early. To prevent them from erupting before it’s too late, because m once he’s in full meltdown. It can be a long way back.
If you can do that. He can be distracted by his dogs and it will calm him. How long this will take, will depend on how high the anxiety and frustration has built up. To be honest I did feel a bit silly at first, I was like a ventriloquist with these 3 dogs. Trying to have very serious conversation, but acting like a bit of a clown. It’s what Jack needed though so I stuck with it.
The alternative is deep pressure, which possibly and quite often with Jack, leads to him fighting back. When he was little this was ok, but now he’s 12 and already bigger than me. I’m not small either! You need jack to be willing and compliant before you can try deep pressure, which is where the Snuggly’s come in.
Using them to get Jack to open up on difficult subjects
The really big breakthrough is getting him to communicate what is troubling him. What’s making him sad, or angry, or confused. This was done with the passing of his Auntie. When Natalie has been ill and when he has been unhappy. Both at home and at school we needed something, because we’d spent years with nothing really working.
This can be done either way. I started using the dogs to ask the questions, Jack would sometimes answer. Even if it was only with a nod or shake of the head for yes and no. Occasionally we have managed to get more out of him, but just getting the yes and no answers is a big step.
A lot of Jacks problems in the past we believe have been through frustration of not being able to communicate what he’s feeling. He is verbal, but uses a lot of echolalia. So what he’s understanding and what he’s able to say, are poles apart. To be able to find out his feelings, we need to be able to ask the right questions. The dogs have given us an effective way to ask, that Jack is happy with. Now it’s just a case of asking the right questions, to find the right answers.
How school are now using them too
Jack has been having one to one psychology sessions at school. We get sent a report of each one he has and , they have made for some interesting reading. Jack wouldn’t answer their questions, buteventually he did using one of his dogs. So now that’s what he does, just like at home they ask the question, and Jack uses the dog to answer. Again mostly nods and shakes of the head.
That is all for introducing the Snuggly’s. I don’t know how common this is with autistic children. I’ve certainly not heard much about people communicating this way. If you have, or something similar I’d love to hear about it. I’m always open to new ideas, and I believe any ideas that are working should be shared far and wide. Not every idea works for everyone, but you never know which idea will be the one that works for you.
There is a Tips & Strategies section, which will contain all posts that contain that sort of information. Whether it be ideas we have used, successfully or unsuccessfully, or ideas we have heard about and are looking to use. There is a list of 15 behavioural strategies on this website, that you might find useful too.