Sunday, March 17, 2013

Debilitating Obsession

The more I talk to other people on the spectrum and to other parents of children on the spectrum, the more I realise how different we all are.

Individuals are, by definition, unique.  We are part of a group called human, but we each have our own special traits that make us who we are, as a unique individual.

Oh goodness, it's not like I'm trying to explain this to the Borg collective.  You know what I mean.

My concept of autism, however, was pretty Borg collective, until a few short months ago.  Like most people, I though of autistic people as those poor, beautiful children with no connection whatsoever to the rest of us, content to sit all day and stare at a blank wall.

I'd considered ADD, but would have never hit upon autism by myself.  Or Asperger's either.  My daughter is no little professor, no little Einstein, although funny enough an early essay I tried to write was titled "My Child Ain't No Einstein." 

Why she isn't Einstein, though, has less to do with her IQ, than with her obsession.

Einstein was obsessed with theories of physics. 
Ryan is obsessed with horses.

Although this is common in girls with high-functioning autism, I have yet to read about how debilitating an obsession can be.  The literature is all about surrendering, using the obsession in your teaching.  And the obsession is fine if it happens to be mathematics and science or language and literature.  Sure, you might be a geek, but at least you are able to excel at something that the community at large considers important.

All Ryan thinks about is horses.  All she cares about is horses.  This doesn't extent to Ag Ec or to farm animals or to animals in general.  It's horses.

If she locked herself away in an attic and came out five years later having reconciled Einstein's Theory of Relativity with Quantum Mechanics, we might still call her weird, and obsessed and autistic, but she'd be brilliant and famous and helpful.

If she painted incessantly for twenty years, dying poor but happy, undiscovered until her death, leaving behind a treasure trove of art similar to Van Gogh she'd still be weird and obsessed and autistic but she'd be gifted and creative as well.

If she rides six hours a day for the rest of her life, she may or may not become famous.  But I hope she'll be happy.

In the meantime she - and I - are crippled by her complete lack of interest in anything at all besides her obsession.  Is she tired, anxious, depressed?

I think she's just completely uninterested.

I have read nothing in the literature on how to deal with an obsession this intense.  I try to cater to it, to teach through it, to use it as a carrot.

But it is hard - for me and for her - to make it through day after day knowing she is just going through the motions with anything but horses.

She is immersing herself further in horses.  She also plays the flute and belly dances once a week and even deigned to swim this term.  But she does it all with the goal of being allowed on a horse for it.  I don't know if it is good or bad, but it's the only way to make her happy.

We talk coping, we talk integration, we talk dealing with the real world.

In the end though, Ryan is only in the real world for very brief moments.  She has her own world.  And it makes her happy. 

I'm not as sure Einstein and Van Gogh were able to say that about their worlds. 

Maybe Ryan is a lot smarter than I give her credit for.  On a horse, she is happier than the rest of us will ever be.

I'm just frightened that she can't be on the back of a horse all the time for the rest of her life.

And, quite frankly, that I'm going to be the one carrying her through the real world, tolerated but resented, because the real world - and I - are a necessary but poor substitute for the horses she'd rather have carrying her.

To Ryan, I AM the Borg collective, forcing her to be more like everyone else when all she wants to do is be left alone.

Am I the good guy helping her cope with reality or the bad guy forcing her to give up who she is? 

Where is the friggin' how-to manual for dealing with an obsessed autistic child?

Being the Borg sucks.

Resistance is futile.


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