This week I met with a lovely group of parents of children newly diagnosed with ASD. I was there to talk about my story and provide a longer term view of living with an autistic child. Hopefully I also provided a few laughs and gave those parents a little “heads up” on what is to come! One of the questions to come up was “how did you first spot that Alex was different?” Well, of course with hindsight there were many obvious signposts – but he was our only child at the time and I knew NOTHING about Autism.
When Alex picked up a book on his third birthday and read it to us, we glowed with misplaced pride on our ability to produce a budding genius. When we took him to 8 hour long softball tournaments (no, I’m not American, but love the sport) people told us he was amazingly well behaved two year old for sitting and playing with his beloved train track for the whole day. His rather affected, BBC pronunciation of English, just seemed normal to us. For sure he didn’t enjoy being around other children – he would wait patiently at the slide in the playground until no other children were within touching distance. And loud noises, trying anything new and changes of routine threw him, but still THAT wasn’t Autism was it?
Of course, when child no.2 came along, loving cuddles, being bounced around, noise, food, into everything etc, the impossibility of Alex being “just a little different” was clear to see. By that point we were well into the rounds of health visitor, GP, consultant paediatrician, speech and language therapist etc that all parents go through before diagnosis. And starting school brought into sharp focus just how different Alex was to his peer group.
However, the over-riding difference between Alex and other neurotypical kids for me, is the dreaded “obsession”. When he has an interest, it overcomes all else. And by that I mean; eating, sleeping, going to the toilet, talking about anything else ever, doing any activity not based around the current interest etc. I have plenty of well meaning parents say to me “oh, all boys are like that” or “my son is mad for Pokemon too” Well… it’s not the same with ASD kids. The current special interest is so fascinating that it must surely be of the same interest to everyone else too. And that means people who work in shops, passers by in the street, anyone new he is introduced to etc. We have been through:
- Thomas the Tank Engine (a very common starter interest)
- Tamagotchi – Alex wore 6 of the blasted, beeping things all day every day and night for two years, tangled in a hornets nest round his neck.
- Pokemon – still of interest but on the wane, thousands of cards and hundreds of pounds of DS games later
- now supplanted by MINECRAFT!!!
I attended a very interested talk by the renowned Dr Wendy Lawson, hosted by our local branch of the National Autistic Society. She remarked that obsessions would be better called “special interests” as it was a rather demeaning view of us Neurotypicals to assume. Of course, she is right, it is just difficult to take the long view when your life is taken over by your son’s constant need to talk, breathe, draw, construct and wear things relating to this interest. Alex has managed to divert maths, art, cookery even geography lessons at school into discussions revolving around Pokemon. Every piece of art he created during 18 months was Pokemon themed. He wore Pokemon T shirts, insisted on a Pokemon birthday party, knew every name, power, points and other related information on every Pokemon (there are hundreds) and watched every film and cartoon. We cope (just) by having a sense of humour and living by the maxim “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. I know far more than is healthy about every obsession so far, and manage to find something interesting and useful where possible.
And on that note: this appeared on the BBC news this week http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20492908 so maybe this latest obsession will lead to a career in the UN! I’d love to hear from you with any of your child’s special interests and how you coped. To leave a comment, click on the speech bubble at the top right hand corner of the blog. And click follow if you’d like to receive more blog posts!