by Lesa Shusta
Passions There has been a lot of controversy whether an autistic child’s obsessions are actually passions. Where do our own obsessions become passions? What are we passionate about?
This brings up a lot of interesting food for thought. It reminds me of the little boy we had in pre-school who was diagnosed with Asperger’s. This sweet little guy was over the moon for vacuum cleaners. He spoke of them constantly, he discussed makes, models, brand names, bagless versus bagged. He even had opinions on Swiffers and Swiffer jets and had quite a collection of old vacuum cleaners handed down from his grandparents. To the adults around him this just seemed bizarre. He wanted to kiss the vacuum every day and run the dust buster for his teacher. His whole little world was consumed with his favorite machinery. Now this can be looked at in a few ways. Is it normal to want to kiss a vacuum cleaner? Well not to the average child, but by telling him he couldn’t indulge in his favorite passion, you could see that a little bit of his spirit was being broken. It has been embedded into our heads that we must act appropriately at all times and day dreaming about vacuum cleaners certainly did not fit the bill. It was okay for little girls to love their baby dolls and their accessories that came along with them. It was okay for the little boys to talk excessively about their cars and monster trucks, fire engines and police cars, but poor little (let’s call him Joey for sake of anonymity) was made to feel different and deprived of his passion by concerned but well-meaning people. It broke our hearts to say the least and got us thinking.
Myself and Joey’s teacher had recently attended a fabulous seminar about autistic children and their passions. We decided to work Joey’s passions into his daily learning and what a difference this made. Rather than make Joey write his name (which at that time meant nothing to him), she started having him trace the names of his favorite vacuum cleaners; Hoover, Bissel, etc. and then show him pictures of the vacuums. Joey then worked for his time to indulge his passions and it made all of the difference in the world. This was met with some opposition from the behavioral agency he belonged to, who wanted to completely eradicate this behavior.
This was a huge lesson for me. What if someone told me or you that something that brought you so much pleasure ( and was relatively harmless) was so bad and so wrong and that you would actually be punished if you tried to pursue your passion. Can you imagine how that would make you feel? Could you imagine how further isolated and different you would feel if someone told you, you cannot read, or knit, or play a sport or collect comic books or whatever you love to do because they did not feel it was socially acceptable? WE need to be aware that these children are just as important as we are, and that if something grabs them and makes them happy, who are we to say it’s wrong? Sure maybe it has to be shaped a little and toned down so that they can also interact in the world and do the things that will help them to be independent but it is a matter of respect. I am guilty of it myself. Before I knew better I used to do the same thing, so this is not to berate anyone who felt that they were doing the right thing by trying to extinguish behavior that they thought was inappropriate for this world. It’s about living together and respecting our differences. When in doubt, think of how you would feel if someone told you that you could no longer twirl your hair when you get nervous, or you can’t pace the floor when you are trying to think. For us we call them coping skills but for autistic children we call them stims. WE were all put here to contribute our part to the world. Let’s accept them for their uniqueness. After all they are much more spiritually developed than we are. Rather than change them, let’s join them and see what they can teach us. Who knows there may be a hidden vacuum cleaner genius inside of us waiting to come out. It’s time we all learned to think outside the box and who better to teach us?