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: WHO THE $@#% MOVED MY CHEESE?!

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I forget where I was that day, but I’d been out of the house, something typically productive for a 15-year-old, like work.

As I settled back down in my room, I went to put my wallet, watch, and my other effects back in their spots.

Then I noticed something. Many somethings. They were off.

This . . . would end poorly.


If you know me, you know I’m not the cleanest person, but I am one of the tidier, more organized folks you’ll meet.

My nightstand, office desk, and other surfaces are arranged just so. 

It’s not neatness; it’s obsessive compulsive behavior.

I almost wish it were less so! I’d like to be able to leave my bed unmade or have dishes in the sink for more than a minute. But I can’t.

It’s a visceral reaction, one that (to me) seems borne of a need to declutter the things I see so that I’m not being overwhelmed with my own internal clutter than I don’t see. 

So when you’re wondering “Why is he doing dishes during this event at their house?” or “This guy is really obsessed with picking up after every single toy right away” — it’s not because I think y’all are dirty; I just have to declutter space to function. 


Back in my room, my pens had been misaligned. My watches completely shuffled. My change cup was emptied, its contents placed in piles across my dresser. Like a surgeon rearranging one’s organs and fitting them back into a body, my room had been dismembered and stitched into a pale imitation of how had everything.

I heard my siblings’ impish chuckles outside my door, and — well, I might have lost my cool. My brother tells the story better, adding much more violent, beating-someone-over-the-head-with-a-plastic-blue-chair color commentary — I don’t recall the reactions, but I definitely remember the irrational outburst.

In the end, it’s just stuff. 

I tell my normal self that “stuff can be rearranged.”

But my true self, the autistic one, doesn’t see it that way. Out of place is the wrong place, and it’s what makes our world melt.