The Life Autistic: What’s with the Autistic Obsessions?

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You’ve heard the stories. You’ve ‘Liked’ the posts. You’ve seen the viral videos.

“Adorable Boy WOWS Captain with Encyclopaedic Knowledge of Boeing 787 – and You Won’t Believe What He Did Next!”

“This Five-Year-Old Genius Knows More About Trash Compactors Than you will Ever Know about Anything in your Entire Life.”

It’s a basic formula: young child, semi-arcane interest, staggering depth of subject knowledge. Yet while it’s a common thread in the tapestry of The Life Autistic, it’s still not the best understood.

Autistic people have a strong tendency to fixate on specific interests, at a level that’s typically dubbed an ‘obsession’ or ‘enthusiasm.’ While hobbies might be more about practical activities (like camping), obsessions are more components of the hobby (like tents or camping equipment).

How do you develop obsessions?

I’ve had a few (and will share them later), but it’s when interest and ‘attainability’ collide. I had a much bigger kick about cameras when I was younger, and the proliferation of camera and camera gear magazines only stoked that further.

Is it bad to have such focused obsessions?

Not always. Sometimes they’re utterly impractical, but their side benefits pay off. I was once immersed in (sigh) Who Wants to be a Millionaire, to where it was more than just appointment viewing for me. Was it really all that life-enriching? No – but I banked an immense amount of game show and trivia knowledge.

Why can’t I get my child to obsess over something profitable, like neurosurgery?

In my experience, it’s less skill-based and more ‘knowledge-accumulation.’ I’ll use my photography example from earlier: the components, brands, and formats of a camera interested me, but I had no interest in actually using them or learning how to compose photos.

Do you ever get over it?

Sometimes they pass, other times they wax and wane.

What doesn’t pass is the “obsessive” tendency — I’m in a bit of a lull on mine at the moment, but with enough time and space, who knows?


 

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The Life Autistic: What the Heck is a Facts Curator?

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I was disappointed in my first online IQ test.

Not because it confirmed that I was ‘good with the words, dumb with the maths.’

No, it was in the disappointing “career recommendation.”

Apparently, this test assessed the strengths and weaknesses of my answers and offered me the kind of job I’d be good at.

‘Facts Curator’

Facts Curator? What the even is that?

I read further: a Facts Curator would be the type of person who knew a lot about a lot of things — dates, places, people, events.

The type of person who’d find themselves in a museum, or guiding tours, or whatever other paying job out there requires someone to act as a human wellspring of knowledge arcane and profane.

I didn’t like that.

I’ve no disrespect for those who’d choose the occupation of facts curation.

I very nearly went that route (!) in choosing a history major myself.

But the way they phrased it…

“Facts Curators can be useful.”

Some people enjoy learning interesting tidbits from a human encyclopedia”

“Not everyone wants to Google information.”

Needless to say, I fought my way into a different and fulfilling career, one that doesn’t play to what people think my strengths are, but what they came to be.

The Life Autistic might be naturally suited for roles, jobs, and careers that fit our different skill sets.

And that’s great.

But I didn’t let my autistic traits define my career.

That choice didn’t belong to my autism.

It belonged to me. 

The Life Autistic: How to Get Expelled from Preschool

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Yes, I was expelled from preschool, of all places.

On what grounds? Embezzlement? Racketeering? Insider trading? I only wish I were that cool.

People like me don’t exactly “fit in.”

By age 3, I’d learned all the countries, capitals, and flags of the world (not an exaggeration, apparently), so that left me little time or space to learn a thing or two about interacting with others. Sharing. Sitting. Cooperating. Conforming to norms. Slowing things down. Listening.

Structured spaces, homogenous places, new faces – those were all well and good, I suppose. But it was a far more subtle thing that did me in.

My problem – I looked normal.

Hear me out:

Let’s say a pre-school classmate rolls in on a wheelchair. Without thinking, you’ll hold a door longer, you’ll be conscious of standing when speaking to him, and you’ll be considerate of his difference. It’s human nature.

It’s an “accommodating reaction.”

But say this kid looks like he could be your able-bodied sibling.

Only she . . . never looks at you when speaking.

Or he won’t pay attention to you unless he arranges his desk objects —just so—-and only then do you enter the picture.

I’m not out to blame anyone, so I definitely don’t blame that preschool for having almost no clue about a regular-looking dude like me.

I slipped in under any accommodating reaction because it’s hard to “see” autism.

I didn’t sit as still as the others, if I sat at all. I wasn’t much for listening when people called for me; can’t say I’d learned to crawl out of my little world yet.

I was bored. Bored. Unchallenged. Agitated.

While they were teaching colors and shapes, I was reading. Reading words in books. I couldn’t bring myself to sandbag myself to get to everyone else’s level.

That wasn’t what a normal-looking kid was supposed to act like.

It’s hard to slow myself down.

To this day, I still struggle to behave in similar situations. It’s bitten me more times than I can count, and I’m only slowly getting experience in chilling out and saving the rocket fuel for later instead of getting frustrated about not using it.

Nowadays, the preschool kickout makes for a funny anecdote. Looking back, it’s a bit ridiculous.

But it was my first foray into an important life lesson: you’re either playing along, or you’re playing elsewhere.

Goodbye, Writing All Wrong. Hello, [something totally new].

After many long years under the Writing All Wrong tent, I’ve decided to move on from the moniker, theme, and writing critic brand.

I enjoyed the experiment, but it was a niche voice in a drowning void.

There’s another story I’d rather tell.

It’s more personal. Profound.

Frankly, I’m a bit apprehensive. But it’s a compelling narrative for an audience that might be waiting.

It’s a story in which there are too few storytellers.

So I’ll be telling mine.

Stay tuned.

 

The Seas are Nothing

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The seas are nothing but exigent provokers of wrath. Immense. Powerful. Suggestive of endlessness. Insanity. Depths invisible. Breadth encompassing. Calm only in the fleeting erasure of the serenity scarce remembered.

It beats back, and there you have waves. Nothing else impressed but the mist, maybe the sky. There’s vengeance somewhere, perhaps in the air, or indwelled within impetuous spirit, soul hollowed.

Its emptiness would only beget the kind of tindering rage better befit for shivering land, not squelched within shower upon shower upon hour upon spittle upon spite.

Conspiring clouds, yes, they’ll cackle too. Mock you, even. Clapping you awake. Fogging over joy. Numbing the vista. Warping the distance.

The seas are nothing.

Your ship is everything.

 

 

Contending with the Edge of Time

I once walked across an infinite sand, made with the grains of stars at great distance. They shone beneath as I tread lightly, even the slightest footfalls depressing the folds of time.

In confusion I circumnavigated what should have been amorphous. Peering beyond the periphery, I found mutable columns, monuments beyond creation, ephemera of eternity, commingled with the banal gems of life.

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Those diadems and faces shone with facets of the real in a sea of unreal, many fathoms beyond depth or understanding. My voice had long carried into the nothing, beginning from the less than nothing – it was not heard. I may have cried out, or muttered amidst the scape: I couldn’t tell.

And it couldn’t tell me, no reply to any beckoned question. I pried at the edges of this capsuled infinity, worlds within worlds, eras lived and died, the labyrinthine stories written and unwritten with each yes, no, maybe, so. Whatever glimmer most caught my eye would soon shy away, like the passing glint of a monarch’s wing. There were some I would have hoped to chase. All little flashes blinding, many strobing, the rare few alight if but for a languorous second.

I stepped back, welling with some fury. Then I too flashed, catching that sidelong gleam across this edge of time. I, too, was the coursing thread of light, my distance gone and tome completed, being chosen and longed for by many of myself who also traipsed time and space in those alternalities of choice.

Continuing the Craft

I remember my dad’s dad, Pop, watching me cut a steak, shaking his head in dismay. “The hands,” he lamented. “You don’t have the hands.” 

It’s a forgivable sentiment. Pop’s a blacksmith, a craftsman, an artist of the oldest tack. I was born lefty, forcibly converted righty, as dextrous as I was sinister — neither quite great, as my steak cutting showed.

Then I recall my own dad, planning the future. “Well, after mom retires, we’re going to move to Virginia. I think I’ll try my hand at blacksmithing and carrying on Pop’s business.” Didn’t quite end up like that.

I’d have hated to have seen the fires of Pop’s forge die down for good. But instead, it’s continuing on in a new light, with a new flame, one I didn’t quite expect:

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Continue reading “Continuing the Craft”