Looming cautious, he peers like a jaguar in a tree,
an addict, on the edge of a big mistake –
mind split, fractured by equal needs to flee
and stay, here with the sacred magma lake,
to gaze, heart aching, on such magnificence,
ever moving, potent beauty and force,
he stares and drowns in true ambivalence,
to leave or join Gaia, to stay the course.
Obsession took its hold from early days –
a younger Mr X devoured all the words he could
on the marvels of earth’s seismic rage displays.
But that was not enough, he understood
his studies heart would need to be insitu,
so travelling far he searched volcanic forms –
those most fiery, not subdued.
This fascination deepened into swarms
of thoughts, so strange, they frightened him, in ways
not clear, but also a calm, they did provide,
a balm to life’s disasters and dull days,
a twisted but faithful beacon to guide.
The earth rumbles, lava blobs and hot spits
sulphur breath into the air, hissing yes,
or was that no, his ears are playing tricks
and his feet move closer, as if to acquiesce,
his face glows in the heat of his adored,
his lips dry and crack in desiccated air,
but his eyes crave more than he’s had before,
never tiring of this burnt burgundy affair.
So he moves in, closer still, skin all but touching
the creature that is this moving lava flow.
Such crushing heat and smells, the flooding
of agony through every synapse – No!
Sheer panic rises in his throat, he turns for flight,
the heat so strong his boots have all but melt,
his shirt melds to his skin, the glaring light.
He flees, goat-like, far from this earth’s death belt.
One of the most fascinating things about children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is their obsessions or special interests. My son has had numerous obsessions and preoccupations with objects since he was a toddler. It was these special interests that first alerted me to the possibility that he may have autism.
When he was about 2 years old he developed an intense interest in watching things that would spin. Particularly fans and the wheels on overturned bikes or toy trucks. Kids with ASD often don’t play with toys in the way other kids do. They investigate the separate components, often studying one part of a toy for hours on end. They can have restricted imaginative play.
He also loved to turn light switches on and off. Now some kids might do this a few times but he would go through the whole house with a stool, so he could reach the switch, and repeatedly turn it on and off. He wouldn’t stop until I made him and then would have a tantrum of massive proportions. Sometimes it was just easier to let him turn those switches on and off. My husband would come home from work to find the house lit up like a Christmas tree.
Once I took our son to the GP and he quickly disappeared into another room while I was distracted. He managed to find the main light switchboard and turned off the lights to the whole surgery. When you are obsessed with something, nothing gets in your way.
Why the attraction to light switches? I think it may have something to do with the predictability. You flick the switch, the light turns on. You flick it again, the light turns off. A very satisfying level of control if you are living in the chaotic world which is autism.
His next obsession was with moving water. He would constantly look for taps to turn on so he could watch the water flow. When he was nearly three we took our two children to Kingscliff, where my sister lived. We thought it was a bit too cold to go for a swim but our son thought otherwise so we let him play in the shallows. After a while we made him come out but he went ballistic with rage. We had to carry him screaming and shouting all the way back to the house. It was during that week long holiday that I was sure that he had autism.
Why get obsessed with water? Well everyone knows how relaxing it can be to watch or listen to running water such as in a fountain or stream. Kids with ASD can be very stressed, much of the time. Obsessions generally develop from anxiety, unless of course it is an obsession to something like Bob Dylan music, which is just good taste. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is categorised as an Anxiety Disorder in the psychiatric text books. If you deal with the anxiety the obsession will reduce or disappear. If you try to suppress an obsession, without dealing with the underlying anxiety, it will manifest in a different way. Beware the pop-up effect!
It is very difficult to reduce the anxiety that ASD kids experience and sometimes you just have to let them have their obsession, or let them obsess in the privacy of their bedroom or at home after school. Often therapists use the obsession as a reward as part of behaviour modification programs.
Another water related obsession, and one that was particularly funny, was his obsession with toilets. His father used to work as a plumber so it’s not that surprising. Wherever we went our son would go straight to the toilet to see what it looked like. He wouldn’t use it, he just wanted to have a good look at the workings of the toilet. His special education teacher would shake her head as he ran towards the bathroom to investigate. He did that every day for the entire school year, plus turning the taps on.
He would also get very upset if anything about the toilet changed. For instance, my friend started using a new clip-on toilet cleaner, and he didn’t like that at all. He also had a tantrum when his sister accidentally dropped a toilet roll into the toilet. When he went to the early intervention centre AEIOU they made him a book full of pictures of toilets. We still have that book.
His obsessions have become more sophisticated since the early years. At various stages he has had special interests in aeroplanes (Spitfires), rubbish trucks, rubbish bins, recycling and the solar system. I will write about these obsessions another time.