Why an Elephant?


Images of Brian and Elephant frolicking in the ocean are thanks to Pipyr Photo

Why an elephant?

Why not puzzle pieces?

What does an elephant have to do with autism?

Most individuals on the spectrum have perseverations.  They get stuck.  They obsess.  They dream.  Their world revolves around their perseverations.

Parents and individuals working with these kids spend a lot of time balancing the act of encouraging their interests and hindering those interests.   Drawing them away from their obsessions so they can learn, play, and be an active participant in their own lives.  Yet honoring that they have interests, as do we all, and finding ways to help them learn using those interests.

For years upon years Brian’s obsession, like many on the spectrum, was trains.  Trains are so predictable.  They have to stay on the tracks.  They can only move in a linear motion yet their wheels spin.  We have train bedding, toy boxes full of trains, train posters, train books, and train movies.  We’ve participated in the Day Out With Thomas events numerous times.  We have visited many railway museums.  We have memorized every single engine name in the Thomas franchise.

Then one day right before his ninth birthday he decided he really loved animals- particularly exotic ones you would see at a zoo.  It was such a blessing to us.  Quite frankly, we were tired of trains.

He quickly amassed quite the collection of toy animals but this elephant became a steadfast companion.  He carried it around for about four months, everywhere he went.


 The change in interests not only gave us a happy reprieve from listening to the annoying DVDs over and over again but it opened Brian up to new avenues for learning.  All of a sudden he was saying new words we had never heard him say: “rhinoceros”, “hippopotamus”, “flamingo”. He was also spelling and drawing!  We discovered we could give him a letter of the alphabet and he could tell us several animals that began with that letter.  He poured over books about the African Sahara.  All with his prized elephant in his hand of course.

It’s no longer a steady presence in our home but it makes an appearance when Brian is sleepy or needs to self-soothe.  He lies in bed, sucking on his thumb, and the other hand stroking the elephant’s back.  When he sees you looking in on him, he removes his thumb and smiles and says, “Elephant!”.  As if he wants us to know he has been reunited with his old friend and he couldn’t be happier.

In many religions elephants are revered, they are a sign of strength and wisdom.  I totally get it, they’re revered here in our home as well.

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Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.