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

Learning about Autism

The making of this blog has caused me to look into autism a lot more than I ever had before. Although I have been curious from time to time about what autism is and how it affects me, I had never really researched examples of autism or specific traits people with autism tend to exhibit. I majored in Psychology and took classes that talked about autism so I knew the DSM-IV diagnosis and the criteria to fit that diagnosis, but until recently I never realized how much of my life was affected by autism and how symptoms of autism manifest themselves in real life.

It is sometimes hard to learn about autism. There are a lot of things that pertain to me and a lot of things that don’t, but that can be hard to hear anyway. It’s sometimes difficult to realize that I’m bad at something because of autism. It just makes me realize (or perhaps remember) that I’m different, which isn’t always something I like to be reminded of. It’s also sometimes hard to learn about autism because then I realize that I struggle with something that perhaps I didn’t realize I struggled with before. It’s like if someone pointed out a flaw to you that you never realized you did and then you’re somewhat subconscious of doing it after that.

I also have so many unanswered questions. No matter how much I learn about autism, there are things I don’t know or don’t understand about both autism and everything else. I wish that I had people that I could ask some of these questions, but how can you ask something no one has ever asked before when you already have problems asking questions that are asked every day? I know that my parents are willing to answer any question I may have, but some questions just need to be answered by friends (which is also another problem for someone with autism).

Anyway, maybe one day my questions will be answered or I will find a way to answer them myself. I also sometimes wonder if people without autism have questions about what is normal and what is not. I can always look to autism websites to find out some things that are not normal, but where does one look to find out things that are normal?