My younger brother’s son was diagnosed with autism around age three. After quite extensive therapy, he was mainstreamed in schools, and seems to be doing well. His autism would probably be more noticeable than mine, though I don’t know how to tell this.
Several years ago, I was speaking with my brother on the phone. I don’t recall the subject, but I was getting anxious, as I often do on the phone. (There are two exceptions, I believe. One is my mentor who is dead and the other is my sister. She makes me feel better.)
Anyway, as my anxiety was increasing, my brother said, rather simply, “raccoons.” I said, “what?” He again said the single word, “raccoons.” I think I said something like, “Oh. Ok. Wait. What were we discussing? Never mind. Hey, I know what you did! Raccoons. That actually worked!” “Yes,” he told me, “We do that sort of thing it without our son.”
So, I began to incorporate that trick into my life some, and I would put raccoon drawings in places where I would be anxious. For example, there is one cabinet where containers tend to fall from when opened. I have had a raccoon there for maybe five years now. I’m looking at one now: a small, roughly three inch by one inch sketch, on my desk. I drew it for my mentor over twenty years ago and “rescued” it from his garage after he died. He had saved it all those years.
As you might guess, raccoons have had a significant place in my life. My mother bought me my first one, a puppet, from an Arts and Crafts festival at a local community college. I was around seven. How do I recall all those details? I think I know. It was only in my thirties when I got rid of that first raccoon and other stuffed raccoons, not because I wanted to, but because they had gotten too moldy through the years and presented a health risk. I did, of course, take a picture first with them lined up in my driveway.
My raccoon collection grows each year. I can still expect raccoons from my mother most of the time at Christmas. I have a Squishmallow™ raccoon on my lap now that my wife got me not too long ago. In fact, I was just using it in a therapy session we did together, as I had the idea of holding it during discussions to help relieve my anxiety and become a better listener and calmer speaker. It worked! Pillows don’t have to be raccoons, of course, but the raccoon makes it even better.
As my wife and I have struggled to find a balance in our conversations due to my unawareness of my rambling at times, I had an idea to help. RACCOONS! Instead of her becoming frustrated at my inability to communicate in the best manner, I asked her to say, “raccoons” instead. She was understandably skeptical, so I told her about my brother’s trick.
After saying “raccoons” several times as the need arose, she realized it was effective and had an idea to make it even better. She looked up how to sign the word “raccoon” using American Sign Language. When she does that while saying the word, I get this remarkably warm feeling that calms me down like a proper hug does. It’s a bit like when my dog blinks her eyes and wags her tail at me. I have no chance to resist and will say, “Thy bidding, master.” I don’t tell my wife that, of course. It’s already understood. (That’s supposed to be funny, in case that gets missed.)
This trick works so well, and I highly recommend that anyone who is autistic or around someone who is autistic discover your own “raccoon” to use.
After my very close mentor and friend of over twenty-five years died, I met his brother. I told him that we had nicknames for each other, and mine was based on raccoons. Some twenty-five years ago, my mentor gave me that nickname, and I’m not going to share it. The only other person who gets to use it with me is my wife.
However, I did tell my mentor’s brother the name. When I did, he suddenly got quiet and serious, telling me it was quite significant he called me that. Apparently, it was a name of a dear person who helped raise them. I recall the moment my mentor first exclaimed the name to me, in front of his computer in his school office. It stuck for over twenty-five years. My wife still calls me that, and I hope I’ll get to hear it from her for many more years.
Most people who know me well understand that I have an affinity for raccoons. At my most recent job, a woman gave me three raccoons from her collection. After I left, she sent one in the mail with a thoughtful note that said, “someone to keep you company.” It was – I think – her way of showing me that she cared about me and didn’t want me to forget she was my friend during difficult times.
–ADDED AFTER ORIGINAL POST on February 15, 2023–
Have I ever given away one of my raccoons from my collection? I have curious raccoon puppet that comes out of a trashcan. I may give that to an autistic man I know whose special interest is puppets, though I’ve kept forgetting after years. Maybe he’ll think it’s completely silly as well.
In general, why would I give away a raccoon to someone who wouldn’t want one? I don’t think my wife or kids would want one, though they might when I die. Maybe my siblings would want one. My parents might if they outlive me (something I’ve always though will likely happen).
The answer then is that I thought someone else would benefit from it more than I do, that’s when I’d give it away. At that point, it’s simple math; emotion-based math. Hmm . . . I like that idea.
Yes. I did give a raccoon from my collection away once. And, I don’t regret it, though I sometimes worry about the raccoon’s fate. It’s not just about the raccoon. At that point it becomes a symbol of understanding, concern, love, friendship, or many unspoken or unresolved emotions. When people give me raccoons, it’s admittedly irrational how much I like it. I know that. It’s the kid in me – the inner autistic child.
When I gave mine away, it was in a time of great need for me and of great concern for another. It was, therefore a dual-purpose raccoon, and that made it seem like a more obvious decision.
It would take a novel or three (or hundreds of blog posts) to completely explain that choice, but I have no regrets. I did what I needed to do at that time, for both me and someone else, and I don’t really care what others might think. I’m used to being misunderstood, after all! Furthermore, I’m confident that raccoon is been looked after. However, if it’s longer wanted, I’m sure it will find its way back home to me.
On a sombre yet significant note: if you know someone who is autistic and gives away something special, it is not a random act, and it’s likely filled with some fear. Giving special mementos away can be a sign someone is considering suicide, especially if the person has no known terminal conditions, whether the person is autistic or not. Please keep that in mind.
There is power in words. Even one word. Just one. Raccoons!
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