Autistic people are described as having obsessions. I personally prefer the term interest or hobby, because that’s what they are, it’s just that Autistics tend to be more interested in them than NT’s. Not that NT’s can’t become intensely focussed on one subject either, they can, but unless they are socially inappropriate then they are seen as a good thing, whereas Autistic interests are generally seen as negative. It seems the use of the word ‘obsessive’ is open to interpretation. A NT need for constant socialising is seen as good by society, as an Autistic to me that level of socialising appears to be an obsession. I’m sure many would be quick to tell me how wrong I am, that constantly needing to talk to everyone you meet is a healthy thing to do. Well, it’s not healthy for me. Likewise, reading for hours on end may seem unhealthy to some people whereas for me that’s a very healthy thing to do, since it recharges my energy levels and is fun.
On the whole, I think people should stop labelling Autistic interests as unhealthy obsessions unless they are having a negative impact on the individual. For some, interests/hobbies can become obsessions, obsessions which start to take over the person’s life. Whether these are having a negative impact, again, is subjective. A person wanting everything they own to be train related, only talking about trains, only wanting to go out to train places etc may be seen by others as ‘bad’, but is it really? Do we really need to have other interests/hobbies? Do we really have to talk to others about different subjects? Do we have to visit other, non-train related, places? Has anyone ever tried just leaving a person to get on with their ‘obsession’ just to see what might happen?
The obsession saturation point.
While some Autistic people say ‘obsessed’ with one particular interest/hobby, not all Autistic people do. In fact, many find they have interests/hobbies for a limited period of time. They may become interested in one subject, say trains for example, then after a few years lose interest in trains and move onto another interest, rocks for example. Still many more Autistics have multiple interests/hobbbies at the same time, trains, rocks, blue shoes and fishing books for example. I myself have had a prolonged interest in fiction books and DS games. I have also had hobbies where I collected bright coloured make-up, collected plastic toys, an interest in dogs, card games, and a current interest in PDA. Some ‘obsessions’ come and go, others stay around for years. Sometimes there’s just one ‘obsession’ at a time and other times there’s multiple ‘obsessions’ happening at once.
We’re all different, our interests will be different too. So will be the levels of interest in our interests.
The obsession saturation point is where an obsession reaches a certain level of interest, that the person becomes saturated in it, that the interest level dissolves. This doesn’t occur for every interest, especially not those that tend to last for longer. Some obsessions do have a limited life span though, for these the saturation point can be helpful for those worried about the level of obsession of some Autistic’s hobbies. This is most important for those interests which may be dangerous to the person and/or others, or if they are inappropriate.
Here are some tips on the obsession saturation point:
- It’s helpful to know that an obsession will only last a certain length of time.
- It helps to know that, even if the individual becomes excessively obsessed with an interest, that the obsession can only reach a certain level before it dissolves (ie the interest in the hobby will disappear).
- You can use obsessions to help motivate the person in some tasks, but be aware that this will only last a short while.
- This type of obsession can quickly empty your bank account (personal experience).
- They can make the person experts in a wide variety of topics, sometimes though that information comes to naught.
- The person may gain experience in a variety of skills which others may not have.
- It can feel like riding a rollercoaster, for everyone involved.
- It can be fun waiting to see what hobby will pique their/your interest next.
- It can get in the way of routine/life.
- It can be time consuming. I’ve spent countless hours reading, collecting and sorting books.
- It may be confusing for others, one minute they’re/you’re attending every Yoga class going and rising quickly through the levels, the next they’re/you’re a ghost as they haven’t seen them/you in ages and when they do spot them/you they’re/you’re too busy expanding on the next hobby to even think about Yoga.
- People will think they’re/you’re into fads, to the extreme.
- They/you may pick up and drop friends like hats.
- People will start to question whether they’re/you’re bipolar.
- They’ll/you’ll hear a lot of “what happened to X” questions.
- They’ll/you’ll end up with a lot of stuff cluttering up the house which is no longer used and left gathering dust.
- It can be a love/hate relationship, especially if you’re the one watching someone else going through obsessions like they’re crisps. Some obsessions you’ll quite like, others you’ll be glad to see the back of, some you’ll end up wishing you could get back because it wasn’t as bad as the current one.
- It’s totally normal, just a little excessive. Most people go through hobbies and interests, the only difference between those and obsessions is the level at which the person becomes interested. NT people can become obsessed just as well as ND people, but because of the Autistic ability to hyperfocus on one subject we are more likely to become more involved in an obsession than NT people.
- It’s normal for us. Just because it isn’t completely normal for NT people to become so obsessed with an interest, doesn’t mean it’s not normal for ND people. Normality is subjective.
- You may find the mantra ‘this too shall pass’ to be applicable and helpful.
- We miss some of our obsessions.
- Some people do go back to previous obsessions (revisiting).
- Sometime encouraging an obsession can hurry it’s saturation.
- Trying to stop an obsession is rarely effective, in fact it often causes negative behaviour and prevents the person reaching saturation point of that interest. It may make the obsession last longer.
- The saturation point can and does go beyond acceptable levels, if this happens it might be worth looking into getting help until the obsession dissolves.
- It can take months to reach saturation point.
- It can take days to reach saturation point.
- Saturation point is different for every person and every obsession.
- It can be hard to tell when an obsession will be one that has a saturation point, not all of them do.
- Saturation point obsessions can be anything from wanting to stare at clouds to learning everything there is to know about toe nails, from being obsessed with a particular TV person to wanting to wear green all the time, from trains to carpets. Anything!
- Sometimes saturation point is when the knowledge runs out. Some obsessions are based on knowing everything there is to know about a certain subject, once this level is reached and there’s nothing left to learn, the person moves on to another interest.
- You may not know what every obsession a person has is. Some are secret or hidden, some are done mentally and so are difficult to see.
- Don’t buy presents based on obsessions weeks/months in advance. It’s costly when an obsession changes days before a birthday/Christmas.
- Try to accept that obsessions change, it’ll be easier on your mental health.