In this essay, Megan Amodeo gives us great insights into autism obsessions and shares examples from her own family’s special obsessions, hobbies, and collections.
You’re my obsession (ok, again with the 80’s songs). Everyone, typical or non-typical, gravitates towards certain hobbies or interests. It is when these interests become all-consuming that we often call them obsessions. We all know people that prefer cats over dogs, or thick crust pizza over thin crust pizza (obviously we all know Chicago style pizza is the best). There is always that one childhood friend that chews gum constantly or collects baseball cards or beanie babies (Who remembers the beanie baby craze?). I am sure we can all think about people in our lives that take their hobbies to the extreme.
In my world, the wonderful world of autism, these hobbies/obsessions can be taken beyond the extreme limit. It is not unusual for men and women on the spectrum to have an intense interest in a specific subject. When I say intense, I mean extremely intense. For instance, my youngest daughter started collecting erasers when she was a toddler. She is now almost 10 years old. What started as a few small teeny tiny erasers that she carried around in a plastic sandwich bag, has exploded into hundreds of erasers. She has erasers of every shape, size, and color imaginable. Of course she has some ordinary erasers. She also has erasers for every season, holiday, and just about anything else you can possibly imagine.
Once she had an insane collection of erasers, she needed a place to stash her haul. This started the collection of lunch boxes. Mind you, the lunch box collection is not as numerous as the myriad of erasers.
My oldest daughter loves to collect little trinkets from any place she visits. I really mean any place! She collects things from restaurant coasters to pins, as long as she can bring home a little piece of her adventure for that particular day. This collection is much more diverse than the eraser collection. It also has to be closely monitored at times (food stained menus and placemats attract uninvited guests).
These are just a few examples of obsessive collections. Sometimes the obsessions can be books, specific topics, television shows, the list could go on for eternity! I, myself, love to read books about the 1940’s era. I have taken this hobby slightly further by collecting antiques and artifacts from this era as well. This is my thing, some might say my obsession.
It may seem strange to neurotypical people why those of us on the spectrum can be so intensely focused on one specific subject. Not all individuals on the spectrum are exactly the same, that’s why it is called a spectrum. However, we all share some common characteristics. Intense focus on specific subjects or collections happens to be something many of us spectrum-ites share. I cannot give you a definitive answer as to why we focus so heavily on certain topics.
As a parent of two daughters on the spectrum, I can say I have listened to untold hours of topics that range from Japanese Anime to Calico Critters (some of their favorites). Often those of us who live with autism on a day-to-day basis endure hours of categorizing, charting, and listening to our non-typical loved ones obsessions and overly-loved topics. I will be the first to say that this can become tedious.
My oldest likes to tell me every teeny tiny detail of her day (often more than once). It is important to teach children with autism to monitor their conversation topics (this is where social scripts come into play). That being said, intense interest in a specific topic can be a really good thing. Let me explain. If your child is particularly driven toward insects, for example, use this topic to hone your child’s science skills. Start with insects and broaden the topic from this starting point. Read about your child’s interests. Learn with your son or daughter about his/her special topic. Never stigmatize or poke fun at your child’s interests.
The autistic mind is amazing! It can hold and unlock a wealth of knowledge! Remember that an interest can become a career. Channel your child’s interests, especially those in junior high school or older, into possible career-life choices. A child that loves bugs may become a scientist. A child that loves trains may become an engineer. Being focused on specific topics does not have to be a curse. It can be a lifelong achievement!