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.
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.
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.