Obsessions, Interests, or Talents??
As I’m sure you are aware (and if you’re not, you will be in a minute), one of the special traits of someone with Asperger’s is an intense interest in a particular thing. Or, could it be considered an obsession? I’d like to think of it as a talent. Either way, this can be a blessing if harnessed and nurtured.
My son’s ‘interests’ started at a young age with ceiling fans. I remember when that particular obsession started. When we went to church he would lie in my lap and stare at the ceiling fans during the services. As time went on, every time we walked into a building he would point out the ceiling fans. My son didn’t start talking until he was 3 which apparently is a normal trait in kids with Asperger’s (we didn’t know that at the time). His only form of communication was saying “gah”. We would walk into someone’s house and if he saw a ceiling fan he would point to it with excitement and say “gah!”. LOL
At the age of 4 he encountered the amazing world of car air fresheners. His obsession with car air fresheners created scenarios to where he would ask if he could stop at every gas station we drove past so he could go and look at their air-fresheners. During this same time period he also started an intense interest with solar lights. (The type of lights that you would use in landscaping). He would get air-fresheners and solar lights for Christmas along with standard presents like toy trucks and cars but his total focus was on lights and air fresheners. We used to chuckle about it but never really thought it was related to anything other than a passing phase. We never discouraged any of these interests since it didn’t hurt him or anyone else. We just thought it was something that he’d eventually get bored with and move on.
Although the regular toys were never on his radar, he did find one thing that caught his attention. Lincoln logs! He would sit for hours building things. When I saw what he would do with Lincoln logs I started to realize how truly special he was. He didn’t sit and create one room cabins like most kids would do. He built entire cities without any direction or instructions. Then he would break out and create room sized art. One day he created a huge flower on the floor of the family room. All of this at the age of 6! I want to mention that I’m not an artist and neither is his mom. I’m a musician but have no drawing or sculpting abilities whatsoever.
When he turned 8 I bought him a toy potter’s wheel for Christmas because I knew he had such an intense interest in building and creating things with his hands. Along with Lincoln logs, he also loved play-doe and I thought maybe he would really like to work with clay. As it turns out, I was right! 🙂 He wore that toy wheel out in 2 weeks so I bought him an actual potter’s wheel and he’s been creating pottery every day for the last 7 years. Thank you YouTube! (he watches pottery videos on YouTube obsessively to learn new tricks and techniques) I was able to turn his obsession into a creative passion. We started to display and sell his work at various art shows and it’s so amazing to see his face light up when he demonstrates his pottery wheel skills. As it turns out, he loves to teach! We’ve also had the opportunity to meet some great local potters and his self confidence soars when he is greeted with open arms. Together we found something in this world that other people love as much as he does.
My advice to parents and those who are experiencing similar situations is to get creative and harness those intense interests. If there’s an interest in video games, look into computer programming. If there’s an obsession with food, look into cooking classes. If there’s an interest in carrots, look into gardening. There are so many areas that can be explored if you just get a little creative and don’t view this as something that will eventually go away. These kids are brilliant and if we’re not capturing that brilliance, we are really cheating them out of a great life. These kids are future scientists, inventors, musicians, computer programmers, professors, and artists. They just need a little direction and some help to get to the next level.
Mason’s obsessions always seemed to be centered on the sensory system. Sight (solar lights), smell (air fresheners), touch (clay), and sound (he plays guitar and sings). Children with Asperger’s have a heightened sensory system so this all makes sense now. It wasn’t until he was diagnosed with Asperger’s that we even considered his situation to be any other than a phase. Thank God his pediatrician suggested that we get him tested. We were finally able to look at his intense interests as more than just a passing phase. It was (and still is) his life!
I’m curious to hear from others who have encountered various intense interests. I have some friends whose young son was obsessed with carrots and the color orange. I love these stories because it helps us to feel as though we’re not the only ones experiencing these wonderful situations.