Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dwindling Obsessions

Although, like Alex, I tend to prefer a comfortable rut, change can be a welcome relief. Recently, we have noticed that some of Alex’s obsessions seem to be dwindling, which indicates progress. Even though many of his interests remain the same, he doesn’t act as obsessed as he once did. The other night, Ed went through Alex’s browsing history on his laptop, which we do from time to time to make sure he is not Googling anything he shouldn’t be, and, as usual, we find these checks to be an interesting glimpse into Alex’s mind. On this most recent check of the browsing history, Ed wasn’t surprised to find that Alex had been searching sites for Blackjack games, math games, and clocks, three of his favorite things. What was unusual were some of the questions he asked Google: “Can earth collide with a comet or asteroid?” and “Is it rude to ask someone’s age?” and “How do you live to be 100?” In addition, he was checking out patterns of Easter dates and urine tests. The boy certainly has a wide range of curious interests. Even though he apparently is pursuing his questions about health, the future, and time, he isn’t constantly asking us questions or talking endlessly about these topics. Perhaps, like many teenagers, he thinks his parents don’t know anything anyway, so he doesn’t bother asking us and goes directly to the Internet for his information.

In addition to refraining from chattering on and on about his obsessive interests, we have seen other changes that make Alex’s behavior more typical of a boy his age. For example, not long ago, he was driving us crazy with his need to be entertained constantly or at least told what he should do to keep busy. He would ask us seemingly hundreds of times a day, “What do now?” If we didn’t come up with ideas quickly, he’d become frantic, worried that he may be without activity for a while. Lately, he’s been hanging out in his room reading and playing handheld electronic games and doesn’t seem to have any problems finding things to fill his time. Another issue he seems to be overcoming is eating with others who are wearing clothing with words or logos on them. Previously, he would not open his mouth if anyone else were wearing what he termed “bad imagine clothes,” which took in about anything from Nike swooshes to t-shirts with writing to shirts with the Chaps C logo. No matter how tiny that brand logo may be, Alex spotted it and refused to eat with the person donning it. Now, he doesn’t seem to notice or care what others are wearing, which is easier. Another eating-related issue that has improved is his need for everyone to be seated before he can eat. While this seemed like a mannerly thing to do, he was actually annoying because he would whine or complain impatiently that he was hungry, yet he couldn’t eat until everyone was at the table. In fact, Alex would only eat while seated at a dining table, even though as he got older, we didn’t care if he ate or drank in the family room. He insisted upon eating at the table, and if he were having one of his snacks, he didn’t appreciate anyone walking through the kitchen, interrupting his feeding time. Now he has been taking his juice and snacks throughout the house, freed from his ties to the kitchen. Although we don’t mind because he is a very neat eater, the only problem is that we are finding cups left in various rooms: the dining room, the family room, our home office, his bedroom, and even the bathroom. Yet another obsession that he seems to be breaking free of is his insistence of snacks at exact times. Instead of demanding snacks at 3:30, 8:00, and 9:00, he’s more flexible about the times and sometimes even skips a snack time if he’s not really hungry. For someone who is focused upon time and eating, these minor changes signal major progress.

Another improvement we have seen that is likely related to the easing of his obsessions is the frequency, duration, and intensity of his meltdowns. While these have been decreasing over the past year or so, we have seen Alex learn to manage his anxiety much better. Even though he still recites his list of grievances, and his hands shake, he rarely needs to act aggressively through yelling or hitting. Typically, these meltdowns are triggered by his obsessions, and we simply need to talk him through the concerns he has for them. For example, the other day, he started mumbling about wanting to get rid of his graphing calculator because he never wanted to use it again, and he was insistent that I throw away his 2002 World Almanac because he didn’t need it anymore. In addition, he once again reminded me that he no longer wanted to play the phone call points game he had devised a few years ago. Although he was upset, he remained reasonably calm as he tried to take control of his anxiety by wanting to get rid of things from his past that he previously enjoyed but no longer wanted to be part of his current life. Once I reassured him, and he calmed down, he broke away from another obsessive need he has had for the past few years—to go two places every day. Unless we have extreme weather conditions, Alex typically insists upon going to a couple of places every day. After his anxiety attack subsided, I asked him if he wanted to go places, and he was adamant that he did not. Thinking that I had misunderstood him, I rephrased the question to confirm that he had chosen not to go anyplace that day. He looked at me directly and replied, “Correct.” Apparently, he was willing to break free of another routine he had established. I often think that Alex imposes order and routine into his world because his sensory issues and language delays make it chaotic and confusing. Maybe as he overcomes his challenges, he obsesses less and feels more comfortable, which is a blessing for us all.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Rejoice. Change your ways. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.” II Corinthians 13:11


K. C. said...

Good for Alex...and good for you and Ed, too! I think it's fascinating to watch kids' personalities and interests change and grow.

Anonymous said...

Pam, I saw a speaker here where I work who has a son with autism, much older than our Alex's, he said the one thing most important is that these kids/adults can entertain themselves and have things they are interested in without needing direction. Sounds like your Alex is starting to find that on his own, good for him and for you too!!
Mary H.

Pam Byrne said...

Hi K.C. and Mary,
Thanks for your nice comments, my friends! :) Mary, it's interesting that the speaker who has an adult child with autism felt that being able to entertain oneself is critical for these kids. Certainly, Alex seems happier, which makes us happier, too! Hope all is well with both of you and your families.