Fascination and Fear

Fascination and fear abound in my son’s world.  Often the two are intertwined.  There are a few things that will spark momentary interest on the part of my son, like any other kid.  He will want a toy, go home with it and promptly lose interest.

Unlike other kids, my son has very high interest in certain objects and subjects.  He will become so fixated on something that if I try to take it away, he will clutch and claw.  He will scream and cry and cry.  But removing the object will not stop the compulsion that he is driven to satisfy.  After the tears and the screaming are over, he will begin a relentless campaign of asserting the same question or same phrase at me, non-stop about whatever I have taken away.  It’s like a form of torture unknown at Guantanamo.  After the 450th question or re-assertion of a phrase, I usually capitulate and give him back whatever it is that is the object of the moment’s desire.

Now, this heightened sense of fascination can be very productive.  A fascination with books and phonics toys basically resulted in his self-taught ability to read around the age of two.  His fixation with all things outer space resulted in self taught knowledge concerning planets, moons (not just ours but those of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune), quasars, black holes and neutron stars.  He can recite the planets and re-taught me to do the same.

Other obsessions however, not so productive.  They usually involve repetition.  More repetition of questions or wanting a segment of a TV show rewound over and over again.  He’ll want to listen to a theme song or a snippet of a video over and over again.  Before his diagnosis, I made him DVDs with the same commercial (“Goldfish”) repeated for a period of 8-10 minutes so I would not be asked over and over to rewind it and replay on the Tivo.

There are the odd category obsessions such as rocks and boulders.  Yeah, we had a big boulder phase where I drove to a gas station and strip mall populated with lots of very large boulders, every, single day.  There is a huge retaining wall on a hill by my house that was filled with boulders.  Again, I was begged to drive by them and I take photos of boulders which were then fervently examined by my son under intense scrutinization.  He would then point out two or three among the hundreds of boulders, of which he was particularly fond.  I have lots of photos of boulders.

One from the Boulder Photo Collection

And the biggest obsessions of all have been his Road Rippers (cars), his iPad (technically mine there, for a day – my birthday – the day it was given to me but then became his), and finally, his books.  Lots and lots and lots of books.

It’s a love/hate relationship my son has with his fascinations.  Within each of these categories, he displays strong, adverse behaviors to specific items within the obsession itself.  For example, he loves certain episodes of TV shows and watches those over and over again.  Others are forbidden territory.  If one of the forbidden shows is on, my son will first come up to me and say the names of alternate episodes.  This will escalate to “Turn it off!  Turn it off!” and if I’m out of the room and come in, there is sometimes crying involved.  Sometimes, he wants to watch a show.  Something in the show makes him cry (not a sad show – a children’s cartoon) and I turn it off.  He then absolutely begs to have the show back on.  (Yeah, we’re working on this one with the therapists).

To accompany this, he fixates on certain subjects for periods of what has seemed to have become 2 to 8 week periods.  When he was two, he spent hours looking at books about outer space.  We watched DVDs by the Discovery Channel.  He has models of planets, posters of planets.  We were required to make planets out of play-doh and draw pictures of the solar system.  Then after a period of time, the interest stopped.  And I don’t mean he stopped and moved on to something else.  If I brought up the subject with him, he would rush over to me, saying, “No, no, no, no!” and physically take the book away or push me away from the area where his planet toys are stored.  It had become forbidden territory.  No one could mention it without drawing excessively loud or distressed reactions.

This first display of “I’m done with that phase” occurred when he was about 2 1/2.  No more planets.  He then resurrected the obsession a few months ago for a period of no more than three weeks at best.  Now, it has been wholly abandoned again.

Accompanying the intense interest, he displays a strong fear factor as well.  This is most pronounced with his Road Rippers.  These cars make loud noises.  They shake, they rev up, they play music and move about six to eight feet by push of various buttons on the car itself.  Fascinated, he will push their buttons over and over, watch them go, listen to their music and dance.  He has amassed a huge collection of these things.  At the same time, if anyone else goes to touch them, he will freak out.   Not because someone else is touching them but, I think, because he must have control over the sounds they make.

Road Ripper Fascination

His love/fear of them has been so intense that we used to place one near an exit door in my office to stop him from running by or bolting outdoors.  We also used it to keep him out of the room where we keep a copy machine.  He dropped his interest when he was three.  He picked up the interest again around last October, when I moved them out of a storage box.  They were prominently displayed on a shelf in a closet.  He does not allow anyone to touch them.  That phase is now over.

Currently, it’s the iPad.  I accept this one.  It’s quiet, keeps him occupied quite nicely and there is no fear factor involved.  Although there are still certain apps that he does not want opened.

I’m just hoping when he gets older, he doesn’t display the same behaviors with his girlfriends.  That would cause a lot of broken hearts.

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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7 Responses to Fascination and Fear

  1. On one hand, I am jealous of your son’s intense interests in different subjects. Some intense interest in something (anything, really) would be a welcome break from Kaia’s flitting from thing to thing. Sometimes I wish I could just get her to hold still long enough to show her something… but mostly that’s just not her. She craves bright lights, different textures, and new sights.

    On the other hand, I can totally sympathize with the obsession part. Like your son, I can lose my daughter completely to her obsessions (bags, for one – http://bit.ly/fB557f) It’s almost as frustrating trying to get through to her when she has a bag in her hands as it is getting through to her when she’s in her “flitting” mode. And yes… it is the WORST when the obsessions cause distress. We have total meltdowns when things don’t fit in a given bag.

    I guess the trick is to be with your child for that right moment – in my case, between the obsessions and the flitting. It’s not much of a consolation some days, but on those days you DO break through — what a beautiful reward!

    • solodialogue says:

      It’s interesting that Kaia does not have the same intense interests. This just shows us how each child is so unique and lovable in their own ways. You are not kidding about when the obsessions cause distress. I think it’s so hard for parents of children without a disability to understand us sometimes. It’s like they are looking inside a window but it’s blurry. They just can’t feel what we do with our kids. The break through is a beautiful reward and I cherish those. What I just can’t figure out completely is what is he doing, forcing himself to play with something he is scared of at the same time. It’s almost as if he’s forcing himself to desensitize to the object which is fascinated with at the same time.. Just a guess…

      • Desensitization is a good theory. I don’t know if you read the post on the SPD Blogger network yesterday called “Mothers’ Intuition,” ( http://www.spdbloggernetwork.com/2011/02/08/mothers-intuition/ ) but it talks about how our kids have an intuition for what they need most and how we need to trust them (and ourselves).

        It reminds me of when Kaia was learning “up” and “down.” We had a two-step stool in the kitchen and she dragged it into the living room. From there, she proceeded to go up one step while saying the word “up” and then back down while saying “down” for nearly a half hour. It was like she was drilling the ideas into her memory.

        Whatever the obsession is, I’m sure it’s somehow helping our kids to prepare for life ahead. The frustrating part is that without knowing how the connections are made, we can’t do the things that parents want to do most — help, comfort, and encourage.

  2. Deb Mangum says:

    We are currently in the Crusades! Last year we passed through Egyptology, Runes, and Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar. We spend weeks inventing, drawing, mapping and populating continents. Earlier, we plundered trains, dinosaurs, and astronomy. Far, far beyond the usual interest of many children with a certain subject.

    Enjoy the immersion learning in which you find yourselves. It is kind of fun to become an expert in these subjects for a brief time. Remember to limit your spending as each obsession passes through. I tried to provide mountains of information, books, toys, manipulatives, etc with early phases, and it got expensive when our focus shifted.

    • solodialogue says:

      Wow Deb, it’s so comforting when someone tells you she really, really gets it! And you do. It sounds like our boys are very similar, albeit at different ages for sure. And yes, I know the price tag for these obsessions does run high! I can only hope my son picks up your son’s interests…They sound like a lot of fun!

  3. Meg says:

    I think you should get your son a dog. Dogs love repetition, give unconditional love, and teach life altering lessons. I recommend a pug. Tell he what you think.

    • solodialogue says:

      This is a tough one Meg. As you may know, we lost our beloved dog of 12 years only a month and a half ago. This has been hard on us. Plus, the little guy has asthma. So…while I know a dog can and would be a very important addition to the family, I think we will wait. Maybe work up to a couple vacation trips and then reconsider the idea of a canine companion. Pugs are adorable. Especially those that are into aromatherapy…. 🙂

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