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! 

——-

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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We came to an understanding…

I had plans for this summer. My son also had plans. The difficulty was our plans were very different.

Isaac is six. He has autism and global delay. He has neurofibromatosis. He also has huge sensory issues, rigid thinking and a massive love of lifts and hand dryers. He has no spoken language.

So when school finished for seven and a half weeks his plans involved food (mostly mashed potato and gravy), lifts, hand dryers, food, hand dryers and more lifts…and maybe the occasional ride on a train.

I, on the other hand, wanted day trips, parks, picnics, garden play, road trips, time seeing family and shared adventures with him and his twin sister.

Someone had to give….

We came to an understanding and it went a bit like this:
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I took him to a park…and then we went to a local supermarket where he could see the hand dryers.

I got what I wanted. He got what he wanted.

We were both happy.

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I took him to soft play. He climbed about and even came back for a huge tight cuddle…which was his way of really saying ‘let’s go to the toilets now and see the wonderful hand dryers mum!’

So that is what we did.

He would play for a bit and then watch those dryers a bit more.

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I took him to pottery painting. He humoured me by putting on the apron (with support) and putting a tiny amount of paint on his model…and then he tore that apron right off and found the toilets to look for a hand dryer!

He has no problem communicating what he wants when it comes to his agenda…

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I took him took him on a train ride to a big city. His favourite place there was the lift at the train station! Nothing else mattered.

We traveled for an hour by train just to see a lift! But you have never seen a happier boy than Isaac was at that lift!

By now we were coming to an understanding.

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I decided to try to have a day without lifts or hand dryers…

I took him to the park again. This time all he wanted was the bushes at the side of the path! He felt them, watched them, heard them and even licked them. Well, what else did I think he would do at the play park?

This is life with Isaac. He had no idea others were staring at him.

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We had an invite to a family event at a local restaurant. Isaac made me so proud sitting at a large table and eating his meal (mostly using cutlery) and even having some pudding. But that was followed by an full 20 minutes in the toilets at the…well I think you probably know by now where he wanted to go to.

It wasn’t like I was hoping to speak to those relatives anyway…

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A charity invited us for a day trip to the safari park. Isaac showed not one second of interest in any animal. In fact he never even glanced at them.

But when he saw a sign for toilets he smiled, ran, and flapped with excitement.

I don’t expect he will go into veterinary care when he is older…

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I took him and his sister on a steam train ride. He did enjoy looking out the window at the passing scenery and he did enjoy eating in the cafe. But if he could talk I am pretty sure his highlight would have been that the toilets had his favourite hand dryers in…the ones with buttons to press.

It is what it is. He sees the world in a very different way. And sometimes just having him with me is a bonus.

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By the end I just decided to run with it. I only had to look at the excitement in his eyes and the happiness on his face to know that lifts and hand dryers are the most important things in his life. And if I want to get anything achieved these are the motivating factors to use.

I still would have preferred to have spent summer building sand castles, eating ice-cream, visiting castles and museums and time together as a family building memories. Hand dryers are loud, functional things that I would use only to…well dry my hands really! Lifts are convenient and quick ways to change levels…and that is when my interest ends.

But love takes you to places and has you do things in life you don’t expect.

And so I have spent an insubordinate amount of time this summer listening to hand dryers and watching lifts. And in his own way we have had fun. I had my day trips, parks, picnics and quality time with my son. And he had his fixations.

Life is about compromise. Love is amount accepting someone,however different to you they are, and not always wanting to change them. Making things work is about coming to an understanding.

I have had a lovely summer. Isaac has had a magical time. We just spent our quality time in places I never really imagined.

Even his twin sister seems to have come to an understanding…image