Obsessions

One of the criteria for diagnosing autism is adherence to repetitive behavior. One form of this is the development of obsessions. The UK site for autism says that obsessions can help people by providing “structure, order and predictability, and help people cope with the uncertainties of daily life.”

Although I’ve never thought of myself as having obsessions, there are certain things that I could do all the time if left to my own devices. My obsessions have never really been a problem because I have always kept busy with a lot of things to do so I don’t have much time to put into obsessions. However, over the years I have held onto a few things that are really important to me. My obsessions include coin collecting, rocks, and prices. In order to explain obsessions in general, I will explain my obsessions in order to show the variety and extent of different types of obsessions.

Whenever I get a coin, I have to check to see if it is a “special coin.” I have all of the state quarters, several dollar coins, all of the different nickels, an assortment of foreign coins, and a variety of other coins with different pictures or from different years. I believe that this obsession grew when I was in grade school because a kid in my class brought a special coin for show and tell. Ever since then I have collected any special coin I could find and added it to my collection.

My obsession with rocks is a little different than my coin collecting. But they sort of go hand in hand. I joke with my brother that I’m obsessed with shiny things which is why I collect coins and rocks. My favorite rocks are indeed the shiny rocks, but I also like the different colored rocks and the smoothness of rocks.

I believe that my rock obsession came somewhat from a rock lesson we had in grade school, but also simply because I like the variety of rocks. Rocks are sharp and smooth, gray and colorful, clear and opaque. There are so many different types of rocks and each one has its own uniqueness.

At first my obsession with rocks consisted of me trying to collect every type of rock I could find. I remember going to Lake Tahoe for a family vacation and filling all 6 of my cargo pants’ pockets with rocks. My mom came to me and told me that I could only take a few rocks home. After reasoning with her for a bit, she allowed me to pick out 10 rocks. However, I reasoned that since she wasn’t specific I could take 10 for each pocket. I still have many of those rocks in a vase in my room. Since then though, I have discovered that rocks are more beautiful in their natural setting. I still sometimes collect rocks, but I mostly just play with them now. When I am around a place with lots of rocks I like to look at them, feel them, use them and arrange them.

The obsession that is most pervasive for me is that of prices. I am obsessed with prices to the point that I can get frustrated if I am unable to see the price of something. I feel the need to know the lowest price of something at all times, even if it’s not something I will be buying any time soon. I love finding the gas station with the cheapest price and I analyze the flow of gas prices and the difference between different cities or areas.

I also like looking through grocery store ads and comparing prices of all the store ads I have. I can generally tell you off the top of my head the cheapest prices for common grocery items and the time of year that they are cheapest. Although this obsession is sometimes a very good skill, it can get me into trouble because I want to buy items when I know they are the cheapest. Even though I may not have the money to spend or I could spend the money more wisely somewhere else, I enjoy buying things when they are on sale simply for the sake of looking at the receipt and comparing the prices to future and past sales of the item. I believe my obsession with prices stems from my parents’ attempts to save money by finding the cheapest items and looking for the best prices in the area.

To return to the point I am trying to make, obsessions can come in a variety of ways and for many different reasons. As long as obsessions are controlled so that they don’t negatively influence the person’s life, they are fun and make life interesting. Obsessions are also useful in helping us to understand and relate to the world around us. They allow us to connect to people that have similar interests and give us something to talk about when we don’t know what else to say. In general, obsessions can be useful tools for someone with autism as long as they are don’t interfere with every day necessities.

Stim

I started this blog because I watched a youtube video about a girl that described some of her behavior through typing on a computer. A little over 2 years later, I was again led to a video about this same girl. I posted a link to the video at the bottom of this post.

Stim is short for self-stimulatory behavior. According to this girl, stim is output to reduce input. Like twirling your hair or tapping your pencil or biting your nails. We do it to help handle sensory input and to cope with emotions. About.com says that it is used to help manage negative emotions, but I’ve found that I use it to handle overwhelmingly positive emotions as well. Although these may also be considered negative in context because I usually use stim when the positive emotions are not normal or socially acceptable.

For example, I have times when I am so happy that I want to jump for joy. However, when you’re working a night shift and a jump could possibly wake people up, flapping your hands is much quieter, although less socially acceptable if people were around. Another example is with laughing. I sometimes tap or run my nails over something when I have the urge to laugh at an inappropriate time. I also do these things when I’m stressed, hungry, uncomfortable, anxious, and a variety of other emotions.

Some other ways that I personally show self-stimulatory behavior are playing with my fingers or nails, twisting my hands, shifting in my chair, or playing with objects that I have access to. Most of the stim behavior that I use is pretty socially acceptable because I’ve learned to keep the socially unacceptable stim to when I’m alone where no one else can see it. I can tell when people consider some of my hand twisting or chair shifting as abnormal and I usually try to walk around for a bit in these cases.

In general, most stim can be controlled to socially acceptable forms. However, not being able to have any self-stimulatory behavior would make me and probably other people with autism go crazy. It’s just too hard to keep all those uncomfortable emotions and feelings inside of yourself. It’s like a coping mechanism that makes the world a place we can handle a little better.

Sources:

http://autism.about.com/od/autismterms/f/stimming.htm

Repetitive Movements

I started this blog the weekend before my finals and then added a few posts to it and have since been on vacation for the past month and haven’t had time to update it for a while. So, over the next few weeks I will try to post regularly and hopefully answer more questions people might have.

I thought I’d start with something I talked about before but have since realized there’s more to say about it.

When I talked about repetitive movements in my first note, I discussed the tension that sometimes causes repetitive movements for me. However, I forgot that there is another type of movement that I do as well. I’ve somehow learned to control it so it never happens in public, but sometimes when I’m alone in my room I will flap my arms and do other very “autistic” movements.

This type of movement is the kind that comes automatically, like a chill going down your spine that causes you to shiver, but this feeling is more like excitement or energy that runs down your arms and causes you to flap them. It’s hard to explain exactly what happens and I don’t really understand it myself, but I think the best description I can give is an example from the movie “Happy Feet.” In the movie, Mumble’s feet start shuffling and dancing even though he doesn’t really mean them to. His dad asks what he is doing with his feet and he says they’re happy. I think the hand flapping is like that. It’s an extension of the emotion you’re feeling, as if your facial expression isn’t enough to hold that emotion so it comes out in other ways through repetitive movements.

“Stereotyped movements”

“You feel like your insides are trying to come out and there’s all this pressure inside of you like your body is exploding and your skin is the only thing holding it together. This makes you feel really uncomfortable so you try to move around to get comfortable and you twist your hands or shift in your chair or flap your arms, just doing whatever it takes to try to get rid of all that tension in your body. And the thing is, when you’re doing it, you don’t even realize that it’s not normal. I mean, if anyone had that kind of feeling, they’d probably be trying to move around to get rid of it too, right?”

I wrote this a few weeks ago as my take on stereotyped/ repetitive movements that are a symptom of autism. As far as I can tell, researchers haven’t really come up with an explanation for why people with autism use repetitive movement other than that it probably stimulates them in some way.

I’m not saying that this is true for everyone with autism, but in my case, I think this is why I do some strange movements sometimes and maybe it applies to other people as well.