Most, if not all, people on the spectrum have obsessive behaviour. What this means is that they are keenly interested in one particular thing. A particular subject. A particular film. A particular type of toy. Particular objects. My eldest (PDA) son is particularly keen on marine biology, he knows more about this subject that his peers. For PDA people, often the obsession is focussed more on one particular person as opposed to a subject or object.
Many people dislike the term obsession. An interest in something that makes them more knowledgeable than their peers, in neurotypical people, is usually seen as expertise. But when that same feature is seen in autistic people it is labelled as an obsession. They make it sound like a bad thing 😦
PDA people tend to appear more sociable than other people on the spectrum, this may be because they often have more of an interest in sociability. Or maybe it has something to do with control. I’m not sure. Either way, PDA people have a tendency to become overly attached to one particular person. This attachment includes a want/need to know everything about the person, a tendency to treat that person differently from others, an almost possessive preference for that person to focus solely on them and no one else. Some people have said how their PDA child would prefer one parent or sibling over the others, even to the point of excluding the others and becoming aggressive when anyone else would try to include their particular person.
Some PDA people flit from one person to another, becoming obsessed with one person, finding out everything about them and going out of their way to fit the person into their lives before dropping them and moving, sometimes quickly, onto another person. This might seem normal to the PDA person, that once they have gotten everything out of the person that they want then they are ‘used’ to the person or have become ‘bored’ and so go looking for a new person. This can be puzzling and hurtful for the chosen person as they might not understand why the PDA person has moved away from them, they may be left wondering what they did wrong.
Some PDA people can be overwhelming in their obsession and the person chosen may feel smothered. Some like the one-to-one they receive from the PDA person and that they can quickly gather information about the person and are willing to help them in any way.
Not all PDA people will be ‘obsessed’ with anything/anyone in particular. Some may flit from one interest to the next, becoming highly knowledgeable in them and spending copious amounts of time and energy pursuing their interest, before moving on, sometimes forgetting a lot of what they have learnt to make room for new information. Others will spend years on the same interest, gaining a fair bit of knowledge as they do. Some may not seem to have any interest in a particular thing, this may be because they haven’t found anything that interests them yet or their interest doesn’t seem unusual enough to have been picked up on by others or it’s an interest which isn’t easily noticeable such as daydreaming or studying people.
One of the reasons why autistic people are known (stereotypically and not always correctly) as having one particular obsession which they become experts on is because of the time and dedication people on the spectrum are able to give to certain subjects. In neurotypical people were to spend a similar amount of time, energy and dedication to one subject then they too would seem like experts and the idea of autistic obsessions would have become such a prevalent ‘thing’. There’s nothing wrong with having one particular interest or flitting from one interest to the next, however, it can be troublesome for others when the interest is in the form of heavy or unwelcome attachment to a person. This is when the PDA person needs to learn how to use boundaries. This may not be easy for the PDA person, especially if they don’t know or understand where they are going wrong or are unable to control their impulses. There are times when the PDA person may require some help in understanding how to allow other people space, this is even more difficult if the PDA person is very young as they won’t have the ability to understand. Clear instructions delivered in an understanding and compassionate way may be more likely to garner a positive response. However, if both parties are happy with a close attachment then there may be no problem at all, as some people do prefer to have one close friend.