Obsessions are a part of autism. And most of the time they are at least benign (like Sonic the Hedgehog), if not something we parents wish to encourage towards a future career (like computers). Usually, we tolerate the obsession until we ourselves become experts, learning about every type of car dome headlight that is made on the planet. Sometimes we have to limit the time we talk about cats for our very sanity.
But I have never before had to say no to an obsession.
Several years ago, The Boy had an obsession with toilets. He went through a period where he learned just about every brand of toilet, and would watch YouTube videos of toilets flushing all day if we let him (and yes, there are lots and lots of YouTube videos about toilets, if you didn’t know). And after awhile, as most obsessions do, it petered out, replaced by something else.
And after his visit to his dad’s this spring, The Boy’s obsession with toilets resurfaced, as obsessions sometimes do (especially after infrequent visits with his dad). But this time, he graduated to an obsessive (almost compulsive) desire to experience real live toilets. He would spend hours in the toilet aisle at Lowe’s (if we let him), and at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. He began to take his iPad into the bathrooms at home and at Grammy’s to videotape them flushing. And then he began to take his iPad into public restrooms, when empty, to videotape them, as well.
He seemed to understand that it was not OK to make videos when other people were in the restroom, but that necessitated our waiting until the coast was clear, which was not always easy. And then the obsession intensified so that he would need to see and/or video every toilet at every stop we made in a day (and if you’ve read the blog at all, you may remember that The Man stops in quite a few convenience stores in a day to refill his diet coke or to pee, the only vice he has).
And then a few weekends ago, we spent $50 to take a ferry ride to a nearby National Park site (The Boy’s idea so he could “visit” the toilets there), which resulted in a meltdown and another ferry ride back within the hour. I didn’t even get to the beach.
I began to plan a reduced amount of time where he would be allowed to do this, which I knew would be painful.
And then we had another incident this past weekend. And we had to just say no more. No more videotaping of toilets in public restrooms. We were in the car a couple of hours from home, so he couldn’t run away, and couldn’t really rage too much. He is a better listener and communicator in the car. He wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t comfortable with the complete elimination, knowing it would be a very difficult transition for him. But he seemed to accept it by the time we arrived home. “I can take pictures with my invisible camera and save them to the cloud,” he said. “Or you could take them with the camera in your mind and just remember them,” I offered. He seemed to like that.
The Man and I were cautiously hopeful.
The next day, the Boy expected to be able to go videotape some bathroom again, and again I told him we weren’t going to do that anymore. He still didn’t like it.
“I guess I’m not interested in that anymore,” he said angrily. And my heart broke a little.
I know his interests are a part of him, and by saying “no more” it is hurting him. But he is a big kid now, taller than me, and people out there are not as patient with tweens as they are with the cute little ones. I just don’t trust that someone won’t call the cops on him for being creepy. We have explained that to The Boy in the simplest terms, and I hope he is starting to understand, but there’s really no way to know.
So far, it hasn’t been a daily battle, but I think it will be tougher on the weekends, when we are out and about. I know we need to try to “replace” this obsession with a new one, too, but that is much easier said than done. So this will be a struggle for us, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out. It’s a first for all of us, and no fun for any of us.
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