Autism: When your child’s obsession consumes the whole family

My son love lifts. He has done for many years now. He watches lift doors open and close on YouTube, he knows every shop in our town and beyond that has a lift, and when he has hospital appointments we HAVE to visit every lift in the entire hospital. 

It is consuming! 

It rules his life: He is drawn to lifts like a magnet is drawn to metal. He can not simply walk on by or use it for the functional purpose of just moving up one floor. No! He has to press every level, every single time. He has to get out at different floors and watch the same doors open and close from every possible angle. He has to flap, dance and giggle at people getting in, people getting out and the repetitive announcements telling you which floor you are at. He has to touch every wall, put his ear to the back and have a fit of the giggles at me preventing him from pressing the emergency alarm…at every single level! 

It is consuming!

I can’t just go to the shop to pick up milk or a loaf of bread because my local supermarket happens to have a life in the car park and two inside the shop. He either can not come with me (which involves a complete meltdown because despite having limited understanding he seems to be able to sense I am going to somewhere with a lift!) or he comes with me and I risk leaving having only made it to the lift! Moving him on is almost impossible. It involves him self harming, screaming, physically dragging him and sometimes calling for backup. It is not pretty. 

It is consuming. 

He loses all track of time in a lift. It is like an entire world to him. He loves the noise, the echo, the shiny walls, the confined space, the predictability, the voice that comes out at just the right time, the buttons he can press, and the feeling of it moving. It is exciting. It is his ‘happy place’ and he would stay there all day every day. I can’t let him do that though.

So I film him so he can watch himself back. I use ‘first and then’ and desperately bribe him to come away. I use timers and warnings. I use visuals and talkers. I could send God himself to rescue him but he still would not care. 

He is consumed by his obsession and nothing will move him on. 

Isaac is loved deeply. We allow him time at his obsession even though his sister would rather stick pins in herself than be at a lift! But what do you do when every family outing, every waking minute on YouTube and every google search (for images as he has no ability to read or write) is all consumed with your child’s obsession? 

There has to be a balance. Isaac has no understanding why he can not be utterly saturated in his own obsession. He has no awareness of the needs of others or that shops even have closing times! He craves the sensory feedback of lifts like you and I crave water and food. To deny him that would be to destroy him. 

So what do you do when you are consumed by the needs and wants of one member of the family? 

It is hard to get the balance right. We have tried the splitting up idea where one adult has the thrilling day of lifts (yes I am being sarcastic!) and the other entertains his sister. That causes resentment eventually. We have tried days without lifts (that was that awful screaming you heard ringing in your ear thousands of miles from me). We have tried compromising (have you ever tried to reason with a severely autistic non verbal 8 year old? It isn’t fun!). We have even tried the seesaw approach of you get a lift and we all get something we want too. That went down like a lead balloon!

There is no ‘little bit’ when it comes to an autism obsession. There is no ‘forget about it’ days. 

It consumes them. It consumes us. 

We are trying to teach our son patience, self control and limitations. Meanwhile he has other ideas…

P.s. I spent so long at a lift today I typed most of this up while watching him! 

His obsession really has consumed me now too…I am even writing about it! 

That is what happens when your child’s obsession consumes the whole family! 

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This article first appeared on http://www.autismawareness.com where you can find other great articles and information on autism.
A link to the original piece can he found here.

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He played with a toy!!

imageThe teachers had a training day and here I was with an entire day with just one of my children. I thought it would be lovely to take him to one of his favourite places to go to…the city centre! This little six year old boy just beams with delight at the very mention of going on a train. How could I resist that smile?

He had it all planned. He has me trained.This is the routine he always does and nothing changes in his wonderful world of classic autism. We go by train to one particular station, we get off and enjoy the escalators and then turn and go into an indoor shopping centre. From there we press every button for every lift, flapping wildly in delight at the thought the doors will open any minute and we visit every floor that every lift has before finally ending up at the food court where he has me knowing to purchase the same meal he always has and sits in the same seating area he always likes. He then spends an inordinate amount of time laughing and clapping at the hand dryers in the bathrooms before running with gusto to the most expensive, prestigious toy shop in town. imageHe knows exactly what he is looking for and I know exactly where he is headed. He bypasses without even a second glance the high prices teddy bears and Lego sets and remote control cars. He hurries past the jigsaws and dolls and the toy animals. He has one place in mind and one place only…he is heading for the lift!

I never have worked out quite what is so wonderful about this particular lift. After watching it for hours at a time you really would think I would have figured this out but I just can’t. But this lift gives me him so much pleasure, more than any toy in the entire shops ever could. He watches the numbers, gets excited at the doors opening and finds great amusement in just looking at it. The total highlight of his trip. In fact until today I wasn’t even sure if he even realised he was in a toy shop.

Can you imagine a six year old not realising they were in a toy shop? Can you imagine a six year old surrounded by more toys than Santa’s grotto and not begging their parents with those four words every parent usually dreads: image‘mummy can I have…’. It is just days until this boy’s seventh birthday and yet he has never once said those words. He has never asked for anything in a shop or even really played with toys. He has no concept of Lego or toy cars and has no ability to read a book. He can not kick a ball and has no understanding what dress up pretend play is. For almost seven years he has been caught up entirely in his own world of sensory play preferring a bowl of water, pressing a hand dryer to turn it on or endlessly watching lifts either in real life or on you tube.

So can you imagine my shock, my amazement, and my emotions when all of a sudden my almost seven year old turned away from the lift for the very first time and looked over at a display of toys! As if the looking wasn’t enough he casually wandered over and decided to ‘play’ with the toys!

Did you hear me…HE PLAYED WITH A TOY! This is epic! This is breakthrough! He suddenly woke to the fact there was a world besides lifts! And he touched a toy in a toy shop!

I scooped him up and kissed him and gave him a high five! I stood there and watched with tears in my eyes! Then without looking so much at a single price tag I grabbed every single toy he had touched and took my son and his array of newly found interests to the cash register!

imageOn the train home something just as amazing happened. It was like all his disabilities left my baby for a few hours and disappeared. It was beautiful. He put his hand inside the bag (he remembered those toys were in the bag!) and he handed me a bag of toy plastic food to open!!
I did not care if that whole carriage got covered in plastic bananas that bag was getting opened! He requested! HE WANTED TO PLAY.

It is so easy to become weary of playing with children. It is so hard to stay patient when they endlessly beg for toys in a toy shop. It is so easy to take speech and play for granted at any age.

Moments like this don’t come to me often. My son has no speech and he has never played with toys. So yes I spent money on plastic toys that were over priced. But you can’t put a price on the miracle I had this week. The miracle that is the simple fact:

HE PLAYED WITH A TOY!

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