Some Obsessions Come and Go, Some Don’t

A question was asked on a website:  Is it possible for someone with Asperger’s to replace an obsession with another one?  I took a shot at the answer since I have Asperger Syndrome (AS) and I know first hand about having obsessions.  Some of mine have come and gone, but a few remain!

According to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for AS, having an “encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus” is a core symptom of AS.

That’s a mouthful! In plain English, this criteria is having unusually strong interests/obsessions. Personally, they can sometimes be overwhelming, annoying, and fascinating.

I remember on my job as a substitute teacher’s aide working with a student with AS who was obsessed with monsters. During choice play time, he would bypass the games and I-pads for the crayons and paper to draw pictures of his favorite movie monsters.  If there was a movie coming out featuring a monster, along with a superhero, he would tell me all about it. I’d listen knowing my attention was important to him, but I admit I didn’t follow his every word.

Many people have special interests.  That’s nothing unusual about someone who is not on the spectrum having an obsession.  What makes it a “special interest” in the autism criteria is the focus and intensity. When it affects every aspect of one’s life or is sought after with strong intensity to the exclusion of everything else, it is considered a “special interest”.

An obsession I long ago gave up but had when I was growing up was soap operas. I spent most of my winter, spring, and summer school breaks in soap opera land consuming hours of soap on my couch potato.

Overall I think most of us view them as a positive thing. An obsession I’ve had for decades and still have is with electronic gadgets, such as computers, tablets, voice-activated assistants, smartphones/watches, and virtual reality glasses. Shopping for and getting absorbed in my gadgets recharges my batteries. If I feel one of those awful meltdowns is coming on, sometimes spending quality time with one or more of my gadgets will help me avert one. Sometimes, that is.

Not all Autistic people have special interests but I think many do. Some people have one special interest while others have multiple. Some people have the same special interest(s) throughout their entire life while some people’s change over time.

While most special interests are “harmless,” if an interest involves behavior that is illegal, taboo or a threat to your or someone else’s health or well-being, it may be necessary to seek help in redirecting one’s attention to a safer alternative.

Image result for smart watch exercise

I have to curve one down for the sake of my health. My obsession with exercise began when I added to my gadget collection a Samsung Gear smartwatch that counts my steps among other things. Once I got into the routine of counting every step I take, I overdid it! Only by 30,000 steps per day. I take my doctor’s word for it that I’m the only patient in his many years of practice that he had to tell a patient to “cut down on the exercise”.  This counting-my-steps obsession is gone. I’m down to 10,000.

My First Time to Wine and Dine

Just like everybody else, I have “firsts” in my past. A first time to walk which I don’t remember and my Mom doesn’t either. A first time to ride a bike and I’m thankful I don’t remember it since I have no doubt it was a painful experience. A first time to drive a car where the cows didn’t bother to take a hike because I was going slower than a nun driving with two rear flat tires. There was a first time of having an inkling that I was on the Autism Spectrum (AS). That was a little over two years ago. Since then, my memories of firsts have AS playing a part in them.

One that comes to mind was my first time to taste wine. One of the things that was different with most of my peers was not having had as much as a sip of alcohol. One exception was alcohol in medicine but I didn’t count that. When I was sick as a child with a horrible cough, the doctor prescribed whiskey. I’ll just say he had a hard time getting my father who was a church deacon to to go an establishment that sold alcohol. Back then, my hometown was “dry” meaning you didn’t find booze at the grocery store or anywhere else within the city limits. My parents were hoping my cough would get better without it but my cough was too stubborn.

So a lot of parental influence played a part as to why it wasn’t until my 40’s before I gave wine a taste. My first taste was at a Christmas workparty. My friend/wine mentor advised me to take the white wine for a starter instead of the red wine or the beer. At first sip, oh, my goodness! It tasted like I imagined my car’s oil would taste. Ugh!!!

My first thought was, “What in the world can my fellow man see in this horrible tasting stuff?” This was another upteenth time I felt out of step with mankind. I couldn’t imagine people liking the stuff and even using it to celebrate with. I told my friend, “I guess it kind’a grows on you like when I first tried coffee.” She nodded yes. I suspect she was working hard to hold back her laughter.

Later on at another work party I tried red wine but had the same results. I did discover liqueors at another Christmas party years later and it tasted much better. However, I don’t crave liqueur. I can take it or leave it. Mostly the latter since the price of a bottle is more than I like the drink.

I’m not tempted to order a drink when surrounded by others that do. It is my experience living on the Spectrum that I don’t keep up in step with my peers anyway. Now if I’m the only one drinking a non-alcoholic beverage in a room or table full of folks, I stand out like a sore thumb. That still isn’t a comfy feeling. The good thing is I am seldom invited to parties since I’m notorious for giving excuses to get out of them.