connecting with others Autism Chapter 16
Like most children with a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, Number One has always had special interests. Interests which have admittedly consumed her life and ours, but also interests which have allowed her to progress in ways she may not otherwise have done.
There are some in the Autism world who believe that these interests can get in the way of a child learning and that they should, at least in the short term be phased out or at the very least restricted. This, for some, may well be the case, but it certainly hasn't been our experience; in fact quite the opposite has been true.
To date there have been three main obsessions in our house; Disney, Scooby Doo and more recently Harry Potter. For Number One being surrounded by things relating to her interests is not only fascinating but calming. When she is absorbed in them she is braver, more powerful, more able to face her fears; from learning to play onboard the Disney Cruise Ship via campfires with Mickey and hide and seek with Stitch, to the Brave (apple – it had to be green) Juice ‘sent’ by Peter Pan to help her get through the first day at school, to riding a broomstick in front of people at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. When surrounded by the things she loves it seems leaps forward that we previously thought unimaginable, happen almost by themselves.
When we first visited the Disney Cruise Ship, it was just before Number One’s third birthday and only shortly after diagnosis. I was probably at the lowest point I have ever been, Number One was very much inside herself, and I was terrified for what the future would bring for her. She was at that point engaging very little with the outside world, and talking to anyone other than the closest family members was unheard of. Two weeks onboard, brought about massive change. She spoke non-stop to the characters, they became her friends; she understood them and they her. The fact that they spoke in simple actions gave her confidence, she could be brave – they weren’t going to ask questions she didn’t know the answers to. Their games were predictable, they were safe, she could cope. What’s more she began speaking more to real people too – the assistants who looked after the characters, she decided, were by association also safe. For the first time in a long time she looked happy, and so did I it was a week that gave me hope, hope that my little girl would find her way. Maybe she would find it in a different way, but she would find it.
Her interests are, and always have been all consuming. At two she could script virtually every Disney film word for word. At five she loved Scooby Doo so much she knew the episodes so well she could watch them without volume, and now I’m sure she would drive her teachers crazy with the multiple (and very long) versions of Harry Potter which she churns off. At times they drive me crazy, there’s only so much repition anyone can handle! But then I look at her face and see how relaxed she is. I realize that for a while she is in her world. She spends so much time navigating the real world, which for her will never be easy. Sometimes a little escapism – albeit in different forms – is just what we all need.