Both of our ASD boys have obsessive behaviour traits. For Matthew, it can vary in the in will be one film or another that can be watched countless times in a row without any increasing boredom on his part. He’ll only watch one TV channel – Boomerang TV – which will result in endless Tom & Jerry or Scooby Doo, whichever is his current TV obsession. His brain just won’t let him switch channels. Anyone wanting to change over to anything else, well, cue a mini meltdown!
Daniel also obsesses about things, but for him its Star Wars. In general terms, I can’t complain about that. I love Star Wars, and am delighted its another one of my passions that I can share with the boys. Matthew likes it too, but not to the degree Daniel does. Daniel will watch all the films (no complaints from me!) again and again. I’ve convinced him the Empire Strikes Back is the best one, so that gets watched regularly. He must have Star Wars related Christmas & birthday presents, so he has countless figures, books, duvet covers, PJs in the house. It was capped off at Christmas when we got him a Millennium Falcon with a stack of figures.
But D’s real obsession with Star Wars is on the Wii. As I love Star Wars, Jane bought my the complete Lego Star Wars for the Wii, and of course Daniel wants us to play it constantly, and this is where his obsession can get the better of him. When its put on, inevitably, his personality will lead to him wanting to take charge and be the lead player. Instructions as to where to go and what to do in the game will inevitably become commands and before you know it he’s bullying the other player. If its Matthew, he (Matthew) will give up and either sit in the background or just give up all together. It can sometimes result in some good cooperative play between the boys, but Daniel’s Aspergers will demand that he is in charge. He must be making the rules and playing this way, or it will be no way. Don’t even think on suggesting a course of action within the game to him, or that will result in shouts and demands from him.
Its more than that though. Some studies have indicated that autistic children see the world in black and white. There are absolutes for them. They will either do things terribly or perfectly. If they can’t do something perfectly straight away, then its a disaster. Its exactly that way for Daniel. Everything he does, if he can’t do it well (or perfectly) instantly, it ends in a meltdown. Some of the processes on Lego Star Wars can be deliberate but intricate and need a lot of playing to master. But the concept of not being good at something then needing a lot of practice to become good at it is completely alien to Daniel. Sadly, most of the play on Lego Star Wars ends the same way – a full-on meltdown. When that happens, he’s impossible to communicate with or calm down. He’s completely unreachable and has to be taken out of the situation.
It got to a point where even a few minutes play was resulting in big meltdowns, so we decided to hide the game away. Daniel would continually ask to play it, and would explode when told “No” – he couldn’t understand that he might get it back down the road – an indeterminate timeframe means absolutely nothing to a boy who wants everything immediately. We get promises that he would stay calm dozens of times, but that would end in the same way. A few weeks ago, Matthew found the game, and Daniel was so excited. “I just can’t believe this” was his over-excited reaction. We couldn’t risk him playing it, so we got an inevitable reaction.
But recently, his behaviour was reasonably settled. Meltdowns were still happening regularly, but with less frequency, so I gave in to his request that I play Lego Star Wars while he watched. I put it on and started playing (its a great game) but you could see him itching to play it. Part way into the first level, he asked if he could play as player 2. He was delighted when I said, “Ok” – to be fair to him, he was very good and stayed relatively calm. It wasn’t long though before he wanted to play it by himself. He’s managed to control himself well so far although there are all the signs of impending meltdown, but we’ve managed (so far) to get him to stop playing before the meltdown is unavoidable. Its very stimulating for him though and if we let him play it too long, he will soon become hyper. Letting him play between teatime and bedtime can make the settling down process very difficult indeed, so its a case of carefully manage his playtime on the Wii with Lego Star Wars.
Daniel’s obsession is reasonably healthy one, but thanks to his Aspergers, it can easily become a dangerous one. If it can’t be done perfectly, instantly – then he will explode and it can make life much harder for us all. We’ll carry on hoping that the Force is with us!