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Sep 26

Obsessions

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From the time Brody was about two, he started showing one of the symptoms of autism with repetitive behaviors. Many times this was exhibited by fixating or obsessing on a toy, book or video. It would last for days or even weeks. In a way, it has been years that he will be obsessed with something such as Thomas the Train, Cars and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (movies and toys).

Properly defined – obsession can be any of the three:

a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal

someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently

an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing

Caregivers, parents, family and even professionals working with people who have autism all recognize a strong element of obsession with those who have autism. It can be obsession with items, ideas or words.

Unusual attachments to toys or objects

Obsessively lines things up or arranges them in a certain order.

Preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest

Spends long periods of time on these narrow interests and attachments

Many of these obsessions and repetitive behaviors can even include the physical including twirling, or handclapping. These behaviors can also be known as self-stimulatory behavior, or “stimming”. Some researchers and clinicians believe that these behaviors may soothe children or teens with autism more than stimulate them.

Now that I lay out that background about this aspect of autism, I wanted to speak about a few of the fixations and obsessions Brody has had over the years.

Thomas

Brody has been obsessed with Thomas the Train since he was around a year old. He fell in love with the toy trains, tracks and videos because of another child who loved Thomas. Years ago, I brought him along with me when I babysat a toddler. Over time, the fixation on Thomas the Train has been as narrow as only playing with a specific few trains and it would have to be metal, not the wooden or plastic ones. To as detailed as taping together Jenga pieces in order to elevate the train tracks he would make. Brody would carry the trains all around. Other times Brody would spend lots of time making tracks that were the length of a room.

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Alphabet and words

Brody displayed his love for the alphabet around two and half years old. Anything from books, toys, to videos, if it related to the alphabet, he wanted it! He may not have been able to call me Mommy at that time (he still rarely ever calls me that) but he could recite the alphabet. Forwards, backwards, out of order, he knew his alphabet. This obsession has continued and, I believe, progressed to his love of words. He will say some words repeatedly. Brody will write lists of words or fill entire notebooks with his favorite words. As the picture proves, he will also write the words when there is no paper available!

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Books

Brody showed an interest in books before he was even 2 years old. As a rambunctious 18 month old, he would hold perfectly still and look through his cardboard books. Brody would attentively listen as I read books to him. Once we moved to some of the longer classic children’s books such as Dr. Seuss, even as a toddler, Brody knew if I skipped pages or did not say all the words on a page. He would silently point to a paragraph or sentences knowing I did not read it out loud. It was his non-verbal way of telling me to do the job right! Now, as an 8 year old, he has his stacks and groups of favorite books. He carries some around and randomly stops and read them. This child of mine, who rarely ever talks unless it is a need, will read (or recite) entire books.10665663_662278053879206_4041122321545421085_n

The main reason I decided to blog about all of these obsessions is firstly to outline what repetitive behaviors can appear like in a person with autism. Secondly but more important, these repetitive behaviors, obsessions and items he fixates about, are such a large part of who Brody is as a person. I am a parent but I am also human and flawed. I can admit that I have been embarrassed for years about this aspect of Brody’s autism. I would always rush to explain Brody’s fixations to guests in our home, people who go to our church, friends, even family. I would try to stop these obsessions, redirect or encourage him to like other things. I was ashamed of the ‘strange’ behavior. I would feel self-conscience of my child as I noticed other children growing out of liking Thomas the Train by 5 years old. As other kids were, watching Avengers cartoons or SpongeBob, Brody still giggled and beamed when watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. While I heard about kids Brody’s age reading chapter books, Brody still got a kick out of reading Go Dogs Go for the millionth time. As Brody got older, his differences were so apparent to the rest of the world and it was illustrated by his behaviors and obsessions. It has been gradual but over the past year or so, I have very much embraced and accepted these behaviors. I get on the floor and spread out his books in the order he likes, I am just as energized as ever when I read Green Eggs and Ham and I will always buy Thomas the Train stuff so long as we can afford it! Brody’s autism might create his obsessive and intense attachment and fixation on these items; they can even be what soothe him at times. However, it is motivated by the same exact element as for anyone else – a love and affection! I might need to stop some stimming occasionally and tape some pages of a very used book, but Brody can go on loving things the way he loves them because that’s Brody!!

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