Obsessions…they are usually one of the first things that spring to mind when people think about Autism. But there is a big difference between something that is a ‘special interest’ and something that is an ‘obsession’. Just because a child is really interested in building Lego and does it daily, doesn’t mean they have Autism.
Everybody has a ‘special interest’. A subject they could go on ‘Mastermind’ with and win without even trying. Whether it’s keeping reptiles, racing motorbikes or a particular band (ahem), there’s something that everybody finds interesting and it can play a big part of their lives. It can open up whole new opportunities for social intereaction (going to race meetings, gigs, online forums etc) and can even help mould and shape careers. A person who has grown up being very interested in horses could become a champion jockey etc.
Many people with Autism have special interests but on a slightly more intense level. That black and white thinking comes into play and it becomes ‘all or nothing’. We’ve all heard the rumours that everybody working for Microsoft has Autism and we’ve all seen the videos about the boy with Autism who can draw skylines after looking at them just once. When fostered and nurtured in the correct way, a special interest for a child with Autism can be a wonderful thing. It’s just a case of finding that little spark, building a fire from it and trying to keep that fire under control.
Owen has lots of very intense special interests. They usually last a few weeks and then we very suddenly move on. Normally, it’s a film or TV programme – currently he’s really into ‘Wallace and Gromit’. It gets to the point that he can recite the films over and over again (more cheese Gromit!) but these don’t have a negative impact on his life. He can go without watching it for a day without much of a problem. He also loves fixing things and seeing how they work and I think that this will become his ‘proper’ special interest later on in life…one he can make a career for himself out of. (He really needs to because I’m useless at DIY etc).
If it gets out of hand, a special interest can become a full blown obsession and that can cause problems. It can dominate day to day life and make things very difficult indeed. It can have a negative effect on a person’s social life…they may struggle to talk and think about anything other than their interest which their peers can find frustrating and boring.
There are no prizes for guessing my own interest….sadly I am yet to forge a career from being a huge fan of the Rolling Stones. All I have to show for it is a tattoo on my ankle and a collection of albums in my car. BUT…it doesn’t affect my day to day life. If I can’t find a Stones album to play in the car, I’ll happily listen to something else. I don’t need to start each day by watching ‘Sweet Summer Sun’ (literally have been there and got the T-shirt). I’ll talk about them non-stop if I’m given the opportunity but will switch topic because, let’s face it, I’ll talk non-stop about anything. It is an interest which I get a lot of enjoyment from but does not have a negative effect on my life.
Owen has had one full-blown-out-of-control obsession and it was awful. It totally took over day to day life for at least six months – his Dad’s work van. He’d wake up in the night crying that he wanted to go and look at the van and he would spend all afternoon in his coat and shoes, ready to dive out of the front door as soon as his Dad came home from work. It wasn’t just a case of ‘Owen knows all about vans and collects them’ – we couldn’t go anywhere in the afternoons because he was SO terrified that he would miss the van. It was really really hard work.
It does seem to have resolved itself – his Dad and I are no longer together so the van isn’t here anymore and Owen’s firey obsession has faded back to that spark of interest. How do you stop interests becomming obsessions? I’ve had a look through and apparently you just ‘make sure they are under your control’.
Did I mention that it’s a mere 67 days, 11 hours and 25 minutes until my 17th time seeing the Counterfeit Stones?