Monday, January 11, 2016

Autism - Obsessions, or are they Passions?

Autism and Obsessions, or are they Passions?
(Louise Page 2009)

           Could what we, as parents, witness in our autistic children as obsessions, really be the indicator of passions and innate talents?

          Could these passionate interests become an area of expertise for the autistic person who is now a child and soon to grow towards adulthood? 

          Should we discourage what appear to be obsessions by ‘training' for reduced behaviours in these areas and hope to influence the child to become more generalized (normalized) in their daily behaviours?

          If we do aim to divert energies away from such passions, could we be halting or stifling that serious endeavor of intrigue and a natural gift towards nurturing a potential genius in a given ‘area' or natural inclination of interests? If not genius in potential, perhaps a natural progressive and intensely personal interest which could open up a field of exploration (career wise?) in the future?

          Could that intrigue with lineated toys; the spinning top; curiosity with the shape of things; what sounds things make; the feel of an object; the rhythm ‘read' in music; bugs in the garden; the weather patterns; the lure of the sea; the patterns, colours and feel of paint on a canvas; the beautiful pitch of a constantly practiced singing voice; relentlessly digging holes in the backyard after the discovery of an intriguing ‘object' in the first hole dug; the repetitive plucking of the strings of a violin........and so on..., be the beginning of an amazing future in design, physics, writing music scores, entomology, meteorology, art, opera, oceanography, archeology, concert violin and so on......?

          Just as we should assist our autistic children with daily living, educational, social, behavioural skills for example, to enable them to achieve a quality, healthy, happy and safe life experience (serving to enhance their important rightful place and acceptance in this world); which could mean temporarily and momentarily diverting their attention from those passionate interests to acquire or improve on such skills.

          Passions are not a sign of bad behaviours or necessarily responding anxiously and negatively to a stimulus. Though a retreat into a passionate area of interest may be in response to stresses or anxiety; a place of familiarity and comfort to escape unwanted, undesired or overwhelming stimulus.

          The intensity of this retreat can be detrimental to the individual's wellbeing if, for
example, the passion involves potentially risky physical activity. One example of this, which I can use to explain what I mean here is – an experience of a young autistic man, whose passion is building, repairing and riding motorbikes. One day he felt so sensorally overloaded with various stressors, that he jumped on his motorbike and went flat-out down the local freeway; endangering his life and that of others. Luckily he returned home safely. Fortunately too, he realized that such an action was not the best choice of response to his anxieties.

          Another example, is where a young autistic boy, who had a fascination with all things to do with planes and helicopters, felt upset with those around him at school one day. So upon hearing and seeing a large plane fly above him, he decided to follow it – completely absorbed with its' sound and movement. He crossed roads without looking for traffic and ended up in the next town. Fortunately he stopped in his tracks, not moving, when it had gone out of sight and sound. Also, and most fortunate of all, a kind passer-by recognized his school uniform; phoned the school and the police, and this young lad was returned to the safety of his school and relieved mother.

          Most passionate interests are usually safe in nature and an incredibly important and intrinsic element in an autistic person's life.

          We should not confuse them (passions) with 'poor' behaviours which need ‘rectifying' or dulling for what may be considered ‘normalization'. Behaviours which may be deemed injurious, unsafe or unhealthy, for example, need to be addressed with the autistic person/child. Discovering the cause of the anxieties or concerns which produce such responses/behaviours must be ascertained and the appropriate assistance provided to the autistic person to reduce or eliminate them, for the quality of life.

          Healthy passions can be nurtured along with providing a balanced life skill set of conditions and experiences to assist our autistic children grow and prosper in this sometimes busy, confusing, unforgiving and overwhelming world.