Category Archives: Obsessions

Sibling Angst


Aidan: Why the heck, Nigel, is your stick in my room?

I overheard Aidan say this last night as I was walking down the hall, and I empathized. I, too, have found Nigel’s sticks in many places throughout the house, including the kitchen, the living room, the car, my desk, and my bed. Nigel’s stick obsession has probably been lifelong, and to the best of my knowledge, neither he nor anyone around him has ever lost an eye, thank God. I’m not sure where this obsession stemmed from, but it’s most assuredly not abating any time soon. And I bet one of the things he loves about Scouts is being able to handle sticks on a regular basis.

But the real reason I’m writing this post tonight is to highlight Aidan. He’s been feeling a little like second fiddle lately, aware of all the writing I’ve been doing about Nigel on this site, even though I’m careful to minimize the screen when he (Aidan) comes in the room. He’s been pretty verbal about his feelings, too, accusing me of going easy on Nigel and not being fair, playing favorites. I try to spend as much alone-time with Aidan as possible, let him know how loved and important he is, but I can imagine it must be so hard for him. What’s not fair is that he’s the younger brother and he always feels like the older brother. What’s not fair is that as much as I try to ease the difficulty of him having a brother with special needs, it’s still there. And it always will be.

Siblings are the unsung heroes of the special needs realm. Parents, therapists, caregivers, and teachers are openly praised – and deservedly so – for all their efforts with those they work with and care for. But the siblings are not often highlighted, and they should be. Some siblings have had to share a room for years and learned to tolerate and sleep through the noises and habits of someone who doesn’t talk, or whose speech is echolalic. Some siblings have gone to the same school and had kids come up to them, many times, to say, “Did you hear what your brother did today?” And in spite of all that and so much more, they take it in stride and learn to love this person who seems so different and strange and often annoying. The siblings know that even if they’d like to poke their autistic brothers in the eye with the very sticks they leave in their rooms, it’s just another thing they’ll have to live with, and they do. Maybe not without exasperation, but with acceptance nonetheless.

Aidan, I’m so proud of you.

Obsession of the Week

Most individuals on the spectrum have what many call “specialist subjects.” These are topics of on-going interest, over long periods of time, that sometimes increase in intensity for various reasons and then abate for a while, but never go away. They usually cover a general area, such as dinosaurs, computers, video games, or in Nigel’s case, natural disasters. He has been interested in natural disasters since he was six years old and I allowed him to watch the movie Twister, which fascinated rather than scared him. Ever since then, he gravitates toward those types of movies and books, and he has expanded the topic to include “unnatural” disasters, such as the sinking of the Titanic. But sometimes these side interests turn into what I call the Obsession of the Week. They hit like a tornado, consume everything, and then they die down.

Obsessions of the Week literally consume him. He can think of nothing else, he does extensive internet searches on the topic, he can talk of nothing else, and I’m sure he lies awake into the wee hours imagining himself immersed in the topic. It is an obsession. His past Obsessions of the Week include Indiana Jones (Nigel became a Boy Scout because Indiana Jones was one), going to Mexico with his classmate’s family (somehow he thought it would be okay for him to go with them on a family trip), running his own Jurassic Park (because of the movie, he believes that dino DNA can be extracted and used to breed dinosaurs),  and taking four fellow Boy Scouts on an Oregon Trail trip, starting in Independence, MO, where they will purchase oxen, supplies, and materials to build a wagon.

I have often wondered where these obsessions come from and how he can become so caught up in them. What purpose do they serve? Is it because now that his imagination is functioning that he’s making up for lost time? Is it because he had to learn to filter out the things that plagued him that he learned to put intense focus on the things that bring him joy? I’m not sure. I do know that even with the problems associated with his obsessions (difficulty transitioning from an obsession-based activity to a non-obsession-based activity, difficulty communicating with him when in obsession-mode, concern about him not getting enough sleep), I still welcome them for several reasons. They motivate him. They encourage self-esteem. They keep him productively occupied. They inspire him. They educate him. They give him something to talk about. All of these things are so important for an autistic teen.

The Obsession of the Week last week was King Kong. We had to rent all versions and sequels of the movies and checked out a book at the library on King Kong cinematography. He put in a request for a King Kong stuffed animal. He watched King Kong-related YouTube videos. He built King Kong scenes out of Lego. He perfected primate chest-beating.

And now we are into a new week. His father, who lives 700 miles away, is visiting, as he does several times a year, so Nigel is happily focused on spending time with him. They are bowling right now. The only problem is that his dad brought his really cute black cocker spaniel puppy with him on the visit. And Nigel loves him. I think I know what the next Obsession of the Week will be.