I read this post about Obsessions the other day. It got me thinking, but let me say up front that I am NOT attacking ANYONE. I’m not accusing anyone of anything: Rob’s post simply set in process a chain of thoughts that took me back to childhood. Rob, I respect you as a parent and member of the autie club and I genuinely only used your post as a jumping off point.
Obsessions and Asperger’s Syndrome.
Obsessions are a form of stimming. Self-comfort.
I can vividly remember obsessing over a series of items when I was a child: people, games, historical events (JFK, Titanic, I’m still obsessed with the Nazis). One game in particular held my attention for what seemed like hours: a single person game (of course), it involved marbles sliding down chutes to a lever with a small cup on the end. I would push the lever down, the cup would go up and deposit the marble back at the start. I was mesmerised by this game, especially when I put more than one marble into the chute. It sent me off into my own little world: I loved it. It made me feel peaceful and did something to my brain that occupied it and taught it about maths and speeds and calculations, I pushed myself and my own reaction times …
Until it disappeared.
This happened regularly with things I was obsessed with.
My mother took these things from me. Stole them, I felt. I did not give her permission. I enjoyed the things. I wanted them and needed them to feel some peace from the world. They were a refuge. And then they were gone.
I never understood why. Even as a teenager, she was still at it, only this time she made ME pack my obsessions up so she could hide them or throw them out. If she didn’t like that I spent my pocket money on my current obsession, she would made me pack up every single thing in my bedroom relating to the obsession (for example, when I went through a Duran Duran phaze, it meant emptying my room of posters, cassettes, records, books, magazines … my room was empty afterwards).
And it made me feel horrendous. Violated. Invaded. The cruelty made me HATE her. The world is not a friendly place for Autistics, but to have something forcibly removed from you that you enjoy is, in my opinion, tantamount to abuse. I was never given scheduled obsession time. No slow downgrading or lessening of time with my obsession. No conversation about how much time I spent on the subject and how it might be better for the family if I could only talk about it at such-and-such a time. Just a sudden disappearance of anything and everything to do with it. Cold turkey with no warning.
Not only that, my obsessions made me happy and they were taken away from me … so my logical Aspie mind concluded that my mother did not want me to be happy. She actively wanted me to be unhappy. Fine, I thought. If you don’t want me to be happy, I don’t like you either! This act of hers not only made me hate her, and be angry at her, but made me mistrust her.
She never explained herself until I was mid-teens. Apparently my obsessions were just annoying. That’s all she said. No one ever told me that the amount of time I spent on my obsessions was good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. Suddenly, I was being yelled at: “You talk about that all the time! You’re so annoying!”.
It was TRAUMATIC and to be perfectly honest, I feel sick to the stomach even today when I think about it: I actually feel nauseous remembering all the associated emotions of a confused, lonely, unhappy little girl who found a few odd things she could enjoy and understand in an unfriendly world.
Do I have any advice for a parent with an obsessive Aspie? Limit obsession time, sure. By all means. You must! But communicate with your child about it, give them advanced warning, write down their scheduled obsession time or when they can talk freely about it. Make a contract with them – just DO NOT take it from them without warning. You will traumatise them and make them mistrust you. They are still human beings who deserve respect, and if you steal from them things that are important to them (no matter how stupid/boring you think these things are) you are telling them that their interests are not important, do not matter, and that they do not deserve to be respected. I also learned that my possessions were apparently not even mine. My parents were separated, and my father used to say, “But that’s YOURS! She can’t just take what belongs to you! It doesn’t belong to her!”.
And consider this: consider what your child/Aspie does to stim. Their obsessions are a form of stimming, too. Think of the trauma you would inflict if you prevented them from ever stimming again. Think of the meltdowns, the long term damage.