Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fixations: Don't Stop 'til Ya Get Enough

For parents of children on the autism spectrum, fixations are often a very familiar part of everyday life.  Fixations are those things your child has become obsessed with and has dedicated countless hours learning about, talking about, thinking about, adoring, and DRIVING YOU CRAZY WITH!!!  Some people on the spectrum go on to make their obsessions their life-long careers.  Others' fixations shift with time to new fixations.  I look forward to these shifts at my house because I can finally learn about something new for awhile.  At my house, I pull double duty with the "fixation monologues" so change is good.

When my daughters were just over a year old, they were both obsessed-- and I mean OBSESSED-- with "Pokey-hanee."  (She may be better know at your house as Pocohantas.)  Ev-e-ry sin-gle day, we would watch Pokey-hanee at least twice or there would be hell to pay.  Movie on:  silence.  Move off:  tears of epic proportion.  This carried on for four months.  One day in early summer while playing our rapidly deteriorating VHS tape, I realized that I knew every line of song and dialog in the entire movie.  How depressing is that?  I decided this couldn't be good for any of us.  I decided I would wean them off of Pokey-hanee, starting that day.  The movie ended and in about an hour or two they started chanting the name of their favorite Native American princess once again.  I tried to redirect them in numerous ways.  I tried four different, equally happy princess movies-- tears.  I tried books-- tears.  I tried their favorite food-- tears and goldfish-scented slobber.  I stood firm in my resolve that we would only watch this movie once a day for nearly four hours... and then I caved.  Their puff red eyes and dripping snotty noses, my pounding head, my puff red eyes-- they weren't worth it!  I was thinking "just watch the (very colorful adjectives here) movie!!!"  And so they did, for three more months.  And then one day they didn't and that phase was over.

Birdie, intrepid rock explorer
The Pokey-hanee phase is the only time that my two angels have really shared an obsession.  Since then their tastes have diverged wildly.  I feel grateful for that for many reasons, the main one being that I don't feeling ganged up on by them anymore.  (Two kids infatuated by and always wanting to do the same thing over and over is overwhelming and very unhinging!)  I also appreciate having some diversity in the conversations I get to have over dinner.  I don't think I could hold onto my sanity for very long if I were restricted to one topic of conversation for months on end-- at least right now I am guaranteed two!

Once the girls were toddling about on their feet, Birdie began collecting rocks.  I would find rocks in her pockets, her diaper, her little fists, her sand bucket, her mouth-- anything she could pack with pretty rocks.  At the end of every week, I would have to replenish our driveway with all the "treasure" she had collected so we could start again.  She still collects rocks-- and other treasures-- even now!

During the onset of Birdie's rock phase, my Princess became infatuated with Shrek-- particularly a 3-in tall Shrek miniature that she got as a gift.  Shrek went everywhere with her all the time, balled up in her little fist.  Whenever I would ask her a question or prompt her to say hi, she would thrust Tiny Shrek out in front of her face and just grin.  She would get so excited about sharing him she would tremble with excitement.  Every picture I have of her for many months (including the pictures of her as a flower girl in my friend's wedding) have her little green sidekick prominently displayed right in front of her nose.  We could go nowhere, do nothing (not in peace, anyway) without Tiny Shrek.  You can imagine, then, how she took the news that the dog gave Tiny Shrek a facelift.  Hmmm.  I am pretty sure that tantrum was measured by seismologists around the globe.  After three days of intense mourning and anger, the Tiny Shrek phase was over.  (I should probably have thanked my dog for that turn of events, but at the time that wasn't my first instinct.)

This is my tiny OGRE!
This is my tiny ogre in a wedding.

Immediately follow the Tiny Shrek phase, my Princess entered the very socially awkward boob phase.  Yes, I said boob phase.  For several weeks, Princess would point out boobs everywhere went.  I am not usually one to get easily embarrassed, but this fixation darn-near killed me.  My beautiful little angel would point her little finger and in her never-quiet voice announce to all that were listening what she saw.  "Big boobs!"  "Round boobs!"  "Squish-y boobs!"  "Boy boobs!"  "No boobs!"  "Disappeared boobs!"  (She said this while pointing at me.)  One day, we were in Kohl's trying our hand at shopping without the stroller.  Princess toddles over to a very well-endowed lady, pats her waist, and waves.  When the lady leans over to say hi, Princess pats her chest and says very clearly "Nice boobs, lady!"  OH MY GOD.  Please send the sweet release of death right now!  I was very seriously considering climbing under one of the display racks to hide when this wonderful woman she just "complimented" replies, "Thank you, honey.  I paid a fortune for them!"  At least she had a good sense of humor-- that could have ended very badly.  (Later, Princess patted my chest and said "you buy some."  Cute, really cute.  Humph.)  Fortunately, this phase didn't last much longer than that.  I suppose someone somewhere felt I had had enough public humiliation for awhile.  :)

Since the boob phase, the Princess has had a huge princess phase (which is still ongoing only not as intense), kitty phase, a couple of storybook phases, a phase including the entire Biscuit the Dog series, and now a Tails the Two-tailed Fox phase.  (This phase has been going on since the end of first grade-- it has to end soon.)  Every fixation phase is mind-numbingly predictable in that every conversation eventually circles back to the obsession du jour.  Every writing assignment in first grade was about Biscuit the Dog.  In second grade, they have all been about Tails-- good luck writing or discussing much else.  The fixations also create some unpredictable situations.  If someone doesn't show the proper respect or interest in the obsession, for instance, the response could get ugly.  If a favorite item that is being obsessed over goes missing, gets damaged or gets taken away, the result can include:  seismic event, dismemberment of the offending party, ear-piercing shrieks thought only possible by banshees, or worse-- retaliation.  Think about this for a moment-- none of the other responses I mentioned are considered retaliation in Princess's playbook.

"Fine" the very fine cicada, part of Birdie's collection now
Birdie's subsequent fixations have been a lot more up my ally, but still difficult to hear about on a continuous loop.  She has fixated on collecting bugs, identifying different types of animal poop by sight, foreign coins, mythology, cryptozoology, monsters, bugs, and collecting facts-- especially really gross factoids about body functions.  She's a laugh a minute without always meaning to be.  She tends to have multiple fixations at once, which makes her a downright breath of fresh air.  Her responses to lack of interest in her interests tend to be a lot less angry and a lot more emotional, though.  Rather than lead you to your death, Birdie is perfectly content with talking you to death about how rude and inconsiderate you are of others' feelings.  I find I would rather be dismembered most days than endure the tongue-lashing I get from her.

I always wonder what triggers the obsessions my girls have.  What turns an ordinary item into a passion in the mind of a child?  In anyone's mind, for that matter?  I secretly wish that I could pick the things they obsess over so that their obsessions can be something we share excitement for equally.  I do what I can to become excited about their passions, but I also try to strike some balance in their lives.  I try to keep them aware of the fact that other things in life are worthy of their notice too.  Maybe I will awaken them to their new obsession.  :)  The only common obsessions we seem to have right now, though, are our love of cookies and reading (both are life-long obsessions of mine).  Works for me!  I am sure in our future we will continue to obsess over many other things together-- it seems to come with the territory.


  1. Only a Mom can relate! <3 it!!

  2. Reading this was the best study break ever! Definitely the highlight of my day :D