Sunday, September 9, 2012

Practicality: Harnessing Those Obsessions

One aspect of autism that we all learn to live with is the fixation on one topic or idea. For CM1 when he was little his object of fascination was dinosaurs. In fact it even went so far that at 5 years old he would correct you if you mispronounced a Dino-name. He couldn't hold a conversation but woe be to you if you mispronounced "parasaurolophus."

I actually remember this incident very well. We were sitting in a restaurant with my father-in-law and CM1 became very agitated when his grandfather misspoke the Dino-name. Then in a very loud voice, CM1 corrected the pronunciation. Being a little taken aback by his grandsons' vociferous and adamant nature, my father-in-law in his way, let out a huge guffaw. We honestly thought at that time CM1 was going to end up a paleontologist. But things change.

From Dinosaur Timeline

CM1 found out about the world around him and decided that human rights and human liberties was what was important. He learned about the issues surrounding the justice system and learned that everyone doesn't enjoy the freedoms he does. He studied the holocaust and antisemitism and modern day Jew-hatred. He understood that some hatreds do not go away and that it is not your fault if there are haters out there. He learned you do not change who you are to please others. You teach the world to see you as a human being first and foremost (or atleast you learn how to protect yourself). Today he can't even name one dinosaur. But that is OK. His obsessions have changed. But not their intensity.

CM2 on the other hand, has had the same obsession since he was two-years-old. He has an ongoing love affair with the computer. At two he sat down, turned on the family computer and has never left its side since. If you have a computer question just ask him. If you can't program something just ask him. If there is a video or computer game you want to buy or understand just ask him. He is a gamer and a nerd and proud of both.

The issue for parents is what to do with your child's obsession? How do you get your child from talking about their favorite topics incessantly to turning that into a skill, a job and a profession? How do you channel their obsessions for the better? Actually you do it, like any parent does for their child. You figure out what they are good at and you put them on the right track.

When  your child is growing up, you give them all kinds of lessons from music, to art. to language, to sports. This is not just about becoming a rounded person, but about seeking out who they happen to be. Trying to garner what your child is good at. Figuring out where their talents lie is a large part of putting them on the right track.

The first step is the talent. What is your child good at? Are they good at writing? Are they good at drawing, acting or music? Are they good at sports or physical activity? Is your child good at math and science? Is your child good at logical thinking? Is your child good at film making and interpreting poetry? Is your child good at mechanics?

Once you understand where their talent lies, you can incorporate their obsessions into the mix. CM1 is good at research, writing and analyzing topics. He obsesses on the holocaust, human rights and liberties. He perseveres in the face of obstacles. Hence lawyer. CM2 is good at literary interpretation and thinking outside the box. He is creative and playful. He enjoys playacting. He obsesses about computers, and gameplay. Hence computer science and video game design.

Do the boys have issues to overcome if they are to accomplish their professional goals? Heck yeah. For CM1 his anxiety can ratchet itself up. He is still working on control and self-help. Does he have issues with small-talk and minutia of social interactions? Yes, but he is learning to work around that.  He is learning social convention. For CM2 is there alot of math involved in computer science? Yes there is. Does he have a math disability? Yes he does. Does it mean he gives up? No. It means he figures out a way to learn so that he can accomplish his goal. Yes it means tutors and therapists and accommodations in class. But so what?

When you harness your child's obsession it is not a one time shot, just like everything we do for our children. You figure out what they are good at and how that gels with the overriding topic of their lives. You figure out what stands in their way to accomplish their goal. Then you figure out how to help them surmount these issues, organize everything that they are and where they want and need  to go. Then you help them do it no matter how long it takes.

Remember don't let anyone tell you that you are done when your child is 18. That they should be able to figure it out at that age by themselves. Nonsense. If your child needs help at 18, 20, 30 or 40 it is your job to help them. Parenting is a lifelong endeavor. It is part of being a family. We help each other when that help is needed. My mother is there for me today if I need her and vice versa. If she could she would help me figure out what I want to be when I grow up too...I know, turning 52 later this month, this need for me to grow up and set a path for my life,  its getting old but she also puts up with my indecision and misdirection as well. That is also part of a parent's job.

Simply because you think your child will take one path, does not mean that is where they will end up. Part of our job is to help them on that journey, but also to not necessarily write the story for them. Stand by them and support them. Make sure society gives them their chance and their rightful opportunities. Help them see who they truly are and where they have a right to go. That is every parents responsibility and every child's right. Just because your child has an autism spectrum disorder doesn't mean that they give up that right to the life and profession that they want. It may just take them longer to figure it out, that is all.

Most importantly, don't let anyone ever tell you that your child can't. The overriding issue is how to help them reach the destiny of their choice. Not allowing others to stand in their way is step one.


Until next time,


Elise