So let’s take a minute to talk about autism and obsessions. Now, when I say “obsession,” I really mean obsession. This is much different than just having an interest in a person, place or thing. Your child might really, really like SpongeBob, but a child with an obsession won’t see, hear, think or talk about anything else no matter how hard you try to distract them. I’ve found that when an obsession takes over a child with autism, it can consume them. Also, more often than not, I’ve seen a child with autism develop an obsession with an odd object, not just a toy or make-believe character. With that being said, I want to share with you a story about my son, Granderson, and how his obsession with an odd object completely transformed my way of thinking about autism obsession. Yes, my 4-year-old (at the time) taught me, his mother, that when it comes to autism obsessions…just let them be.
At about age 3, my son became obsessed with microwaves. Yes, microwaves! I have no idea what his fascination with microwaves was because he couldn’t verbalize that to me. All I know is that his life, and in turn my own, became 100 percent consumed by microwaves. He would draw them constantly — amazingly detailed drawings — he would talk about them constantly. He would pretend everything in the house was a microwave. And he would find them everywhere. I had no idea so many gas stations had microwaves! Probably the hardest part of this obsession to swallow was that he beeped like a microwave — constantly! We bought every pretend microwave we could find, and then I resorted to making them for him out of cardboard boxes because it was the only thing that peaked his interest even a little bit. My entire house was filled with microwaves! This was by far the longest obsession he has had thus far. It lasted well over a year.
So when Halloween rolled around, I bet you can guess what my son wanted to be? Yep, a microwave. By now, I had mastered the art of cardboard microwave origami, so it wasn’t the effort of making the costume I dreaded. It was my fear of what other people would think of him wearing it. I tried to get him to change his mind. I’m sad to say I practically begged, but when an autism obsession is in full force, it’s like a Category 5 hurricane, knocking down any new idea in its path.
What would people say when they saw my 4-year-old dressed up as a microwave? What would other kids say? Would they make fun of him? I dreaded thinking about the comments about how he was “weird” or “strange” and immediately hit the fast-forward button in my brain to see him growing up and hearing comments like that. He already has extra challenges because of autism. Why couldn’t he be obsessed with something more normal and that wouldn’t draw attention to him in a negative way?
The silver lining was that a part of me was happy that he actually verbalized to me his own thought. It was his own idea, and he was able to tell me about it, which is a huge accomplishment for a child with speech delay and echolalia. And that is why, much to my own dismay, I gathered my supplies.
One cardboard box, one can of silver spray paint, one gray sweat suit, one piece of cellophane, one black sharpie and one battery-powered push button light and we had our microwave costume!
My son was thrilled!
The night came that I was going to take Grandy trick-or-treating in the church parking lot. I dreaded thinking about the large number of people all gathered into one parking lot. I dreaded the anticipated comments and stares he would receive. I dreaded the fact that it wasn’t very dark outside so he would be easily seen by everybody. I was dreading the whole experience. But what I didn’t know was that my entire outlook on autism obsessions was about to do a complete 180!
We got out of the car at the church parking lot with my son holding my hand and proudly displaying his love for microwaves. Before we could even walk five feet the first comment was made…
“Oh my gosh, look at that little boy! He’s a microwave!” a lady said, pointing at Grandy and nudging the group of people she was with. “That is the most creative costume I have ever seen!” I watched the entire group turn their attention to Grandy. They were laughing at my son, but it wasn’t the kind of laughter I was dreading at all. It was the innocent giggles and smiles of other children and adults oohing and ahhing over how cute my son looked dressed up as a microwave.
All evening long the comments kept rolling in. Everywhere we walked, someone was complimenting my son about how awesome, cute and creative his costume was. I could only take credit for making the costume, but I made sure to mention that it was all his idea. My son reveled in all the extra attention and all the extra candy he received because of his creative costume idea. He was the star of the show. All eyes were on him, all comments were about him and all reactions were 100 percent positive!
That was the single moment that changed my outlook on autism obsessions. You see, it’s not about what the autism obsession is or how other people view it, it’s about the happiness and creativity it brings to your child. It’s about taking their obsession and letting them use it to be their own person. It’s about letting your child stand out in a crowd. Looking back, my child wasn’t afraid of what other people would think of him dressed up as a microwave, he was just happy to be a microwave. That fear lied solely within me.
So my here’s my advice on autism obsessions: No matter how strange they may seem, just let them be. Let your child grow with the obsession, learn with the obsession, be creative with the obsession and, most of all, accept the obsession. Don’t force your child to change their interests because you’re afraid of what other people may say or think. Let your child march to the beat of their own drum, and maybe you’ll find that marching along with them isn’t as hard as you thought it would be.
On that day, in just a single moment, my 4-year-old taught me the true value of acceptance, love, compassion, creativity and individuality. My 4-year-old taught me how to march along beside him, and for a single moment, he let me inside of his world. And it was beautiful.