If you have a child with autism, chances are you’ve been a witness to some type of obsession. You’ve probably heard your child talk about something like trains incessantly. Maybe you’ve seen them play candy crush on their tablet for hours on end. It’s not always easy dealing with these obsessions as a family. But I’ve learned that finding something to be grateful for in those moments, makes things a little bit easier.
In the early days, I remember our daughter scripting a scene from a show over and over again. That experience taught me about her echoalia. It also taught me patience. We didn’t get any conversation back then. Just a few words repeated from something like the Backyardigans. It felt frustrating and hopeless at times.
But although they were scripted, they were words. She was saying something. She couldn’t convey feelings or sentiment. I didn’t know it then, but it was helping me to grow my patience more and appreciate anything she could verbalize. It took several years, but the words “I love you” never sounded sweeter. As a mom, I took for granted that hearing those words from my children was a given. When it finally happened, I felt so grateful.
As she got older, we exposed her to many things. She had daily therapies that helped her grow. Anything we could participate in (even when we were sometimes not welcome) we would try. We encouraged her to try new things and opened her mind to lots of possibilities. So when she became passionate about something, I realized we basically asked for it.
All the therapies and activities helped to develop her language. We went from no conversation to a child that would never stop talking. We went from a child that would play alone on the playground, to one that was engaging every person she came in contact with. She became a social butterfly. Her language developed more and more. The more she matured and learned, the more she wanted to be exposed to new things.
It also resulted in an intense focus on her interests that she would immerse herself in daily. I say intense because whatever the interest, you would need to be prepared to hear about them ad nauseum, for hours on end. This is not your every day repeating from a child. This is talking about a topic or interest obsessively. But she was talking, she was passionate about something, and she was sharing her thoughts and opinions. I never knew I’d get to be so grateful for those things.
The list of obsessions we’ve been through is too long to share. I remember when she was tiny and I was pregnant with our son, she would constantly stick her finger in my belly button or pinch the fat on my underarm while sucking her thumb. As a toddler, it could be anything from watching sight word programs on repeat to playing with legos all day long. When she was little, she didn’t want anything to be red and would only use the blue and yellow bowls in the house. We’ve gone from being just focused on everything to do with the universe and space to having multiple fascinations with wearing costumes, geography and states, business cards, playing chess and books.
Every single obsession has opened my eyes to new possibilities and made me a little more grateful. I never dreamed my kid would some day not only read and understand things like inference, but would become an avid and skilled reader. That sight word obsession paid off. Who would have thought her favorite color would be red some day and that in an emergency, she would be able to see the color red in blood and still calmly express a concern to us. I never imagined that her building with legos over these many years would develop her fine and gross motor skills so much. Not only that, but she’s building robots with them and has aspirations to be an engineer like her dad.
Some of her obsessions have even broken down barriers we thought we’d never get past. I mean who would think a kid who doesn’t like clothes tags and has sensory challenges would ever put on a costume or enjoy a Halloween? I would have never thought our daughter would get into any sport, let alone be good at it.
But watching a Summer Olympics years ago got her excited about being a swimmer and little by little, she taught me all about the sport. Then she pursued being on the team, despite her anxieties. I’m so grateful to watch her grow in her sport and for the many hours of swim talk.
I’ve learned so much about our universe, our fifty states, and so many other things that I would have never exposed myself to. In many cases, her obsessions have even broadened my own interests. There was a time you would have never caught me at a baseball game, I thought they were long and boring. But once her brother started playing, she was all things baseball, all the time. She knows more about the history of baseball and baseball stats than most adults do. Our fandom started with watching our son play, but her obsession with all things baseball truly thrust us into being Marlins followers and a family of baseball fans. We’ve made baseball memories now that I’m so thankful to have.
One of the most recent things I’ve noticed is how her intense focus on certain things is truly helping her to become more independent. As a parent of a child with autism, you always worry if they will be able to make it on their own. The persistence that comes with her obsessions seems to get her past her own fears. It’s helping me get past mine too.
Recently she became interested in cooking, when she never wanted to even be in the kitchen. After learning to make scrambled eggs, she would literally have to make them every single day. To this day, we have to explain to her that we love that she can cook, but no one wants or needs to be eating eggs every day. Her persistence is amazing! It’s because she’s talked about scrambling eggs so much that she has learned to cook other things.
She’s also become obsessed with looming, knitting, and crocheting of late. I never did any of those things when I was little, although my crafty mom and grandmother both attempted to teach me. But she has taken the time to memorize every stitch in a 500 page needlework book. Consequently, I’m learning about them too and after a few lessons from my mother-in-law, I’m knitting a scarf for my daughter. Once again my horizons have been broadened.
Her obsessions have helped us all grow and learn to appreciate every little thing that much more. At times my patience has worn thin. I can get tired of hearing who had the most RBIs in the latest game. There are days I eat the eggs just to stop hearing about it.
But I have to remind myself how all these things have helped her grow. They’re part of what makes her the amazing girl she is. I have to remind myself how much her obsessions have made my life that much more beautiful. If you can find the beauty in what challenges you, then you can find the gratitude for it.