Written in March 2022
Lots of people have support/service animals who fulfil a particular role. Some autistic people have a support animal who helps them deal with overwhelm, perhaps by providing pressure, a soft texture or just unconditional reassurance. Other people with hidden disabilities might have a dog trained to detect a drop in blood sugar, or the onset of a panic attack or flashback. People with more obvious disabilities also have animals who help them with daily living, like guide dogs and assistance dogs who help with physical tasks.
My sensory support animal is an elephant. Sounds a bit inconvenient eh? How can I go into a shop or a benefits assessment with an elephant? Well, my sensory support elephant is quite small, he's small enough to fit in my handbag or even tuck inside my coat if I need him a bit closer to hand.
His name is Trumpy (no, nothing to do with Trump [ex-president or snooker player]) and he is incredibly cute. He's also really soft and squishy and his tummy is full of beans. He provides sensory support on a couple of levels – he is something cute to look at which can cheer me up and his soft flappy ears and beany tummy are nice to touch and stroke. He fits in my hand quite well which is also a nice calming feeling, and because he's quite silly he can mentally take me out of a stressful situation and into Trumpy-land which is a far nicer place to be.
He has a sister (Tallulah) and a new friend (Hamish) as well as some bigger elephant friends. There's Emily who is an emotional support elephant and Violet, who is her new friend. Mrs T is a big elephant I cuddle at night to reduce shoulder and back pain from another health condition, and she is also good to hug when I feel down because she's big enough to cuddle back.
These support animals are a bit different to a transitional object*, because they're not things I have had since childhood. I got these elephants when I was in my early 20s and they spent a few years in my parents' attic, only becoming support animals in the last couple of years. I have soft toys that I've owned since childhood, but I don't think they technically are transitional objects.
They provide as much support as a living breathing support animal could, with the added bonus of no vet bills, no walking/feeding and no picking up poo. The last one is especially a bonus given that my support animals are elephants because I'd have to go everywhere with a wheelbarrow and a shovel if they were real!