|Tate with his beloved duck named Boris.|
One of the signs of autism is an unusual attachment to inanimate objects. Tate began this at a very young age. These objects come and go and sometimes come again. Often, the attachments are video/television related. One of the first objects I remember Tate attaching himself to was a Blue’s Clues notebook. He loved the show so I got him a little plastic notebook that came with a crayon. I had no idea what I had started. Tate carried the notebook with him everywhere and he slept with it. If the crayon was separated from the notebook he became inconsolable. The crayon broke and I replaced it with a similar one but he couldn’t stop thinking about the broken one. When Tate woke in the mornings, if the notebook was not right beside him, there was panic. If Tate laid the notebook down and couldn’t remember where he left it, the whole family searched madly until it was found because Tate seemed to be in physical pain. The notebook became too big of a burden for us to bear. The Behavior Consultant I have relied on so heavily, advised me to take the notebook away and I threw the notebook out. We went “cold turkey.” It took about three days for Tate to accept it but it was gone and our lives became so much easier. I think if we found a plastic, toy notebook like that today, he’d pick it up and hang on tight. The pull of the notebook was that strong. Any small spiral notebook is still very appealing to Tate and I am careful to watch for the obsession to begin. I make those little notebooks disappear if I see an attachment forming. I’ve hidden and discarded many over the years.
There have been numerous attachments to objects since that first notebook. Toy Story toys were very appealing to Tate and he was very attached to a Woody doll for a while. The doll became a real problem because Tate wanted the hat to stay on the doll’s head at all times. Tate couldn’t sleep much at night for a while because every time he laid the doll down, the hat would come off its head. Tate wanted Woody next to him on his pillow (with the hat on) but the hat couldn’t stay on in that position. Tate would stay awake, to hold the hat on Woody’s head. I finally had to take Woody away at night and make a rule that Woody could not “sleep” in Tate’s room. That took days for him to accept. When we saw Toy Story 3, we were in the theater. There is a scene in the movie and Woody actually loses his hat for a while. When Woody lost his hat, I thought “Oh no! This is going to be a problem.” It was. I was empathetic as Tate stopped enjoying the movie and worried about Woody without his hat. I feared Woody would go on to do Toy Story 4 hatless and leave me with a miserable little boy for years to come, but Woody recovered his hat so Tate and I were spared.
In that same Toy Story sequel, Buzz spoke in Spanish and Tate became very insistent that his own Buzz should be able to speak Spanish. He couldn’t let it go. These kinds of thing become so important to him that he thinks of little else. If I had been able to find a Buzz that spoke Spanish I probably would have bought it for him. Most of Tate’s toys do not become obsessions. Most of Tate’s toys are rarely played with at all. He likes toys but he likes them to sit on a shelf so he can admire them. Tate likes to organize his toys into groups. Some of the groupings make sense to me but some do not. His cars might all be in a box together but his Star Wars toys might be mixed in with other boxes of toys he “organizes.” If I try to rearrange things it bothers him and he will often “fix” the “mess” I make when I try to organize. Tate thinks in this same “unorganized organization” as well. Temple Grandin explains it well in one of her books. One memory or thought triggers another and soon Tate is thinking about something that is totally unrelated to the topic at hand. Because the movies and videos are so appealing to Tate, most of his thoughts come back to a movie scene or character. This kind of unorganized thinking makes it very hard for Tate to learn. This is why Tate cannot learn from lectures. Besides getting lost in all the language that he cannot process quickly enough, he is distracted by all his own thoughts.
Sometimes Tate becomes attached to things other than toys. Getting new shoes was something I always dreaded when Tate was younger. He would carry around the old ones, while he wore the new ones. He had to “mourn” the loss for a day or two. Trading our Suburban for a van a few years back was pretty hard on Tate. Getting new bedroom furniture was a very hard thing. Tate has blankets and pillow cases that have become very important to him as well. He has the "pet" rock named Rocky that has been very important to him. Sometimes Rocky is a big part of our life and then we don’t see him again for a while but he always seems to resurface. Tate has had attachments to sunglasses before and that attachment had to be nixed. He wanted to wear the sunglasses, even inside, so it was hard for Tate to see. One of the longest attachments Tate has ever had is to his watch and his hat. Tate cannot tell time but he loves his watch. He couldn’t buckle a watchband for a long time so I found a Velcro band. The watch even quit working and Tate still wore it. However, a few months back, he traded it for a new watch, with a strap that buckles and he learned to buckle it. I was shocked he would even consider a new watch but he did. There was a time when trading his old watch for a new one would have caused days of anguish. Tate is so attached to his hat that some people have never seen him without it on. Hats have always had a tremendous pull for Tate. He had a fedora he loved when he was little but it was not age appropriate so we hid that one and he chose to wear a black news-boy hat. Tate wore it until it was falling apart. Each time a hat becomes worn or stinky, and it is time to trade for a new hat, I warn Tate for a few days prior. When we actually trade, it can be very stressful for a few days afterward. It is much like a small child giving up a blanket or a pacifier.
The last time we went hat shopping, Tate chose a ball cap with a Jayhawk on the front. It was the smoothest transition we have had yet. I told him to pick two so he could have an extra. I expected him to pick two exactly alike. I told him he could do that so the next trade would not really be a trade at all. But he chose two different hats with a Jayhawk on each. Once in a while, I bring out the second hat and remind him we have it. Hopefully, the next trade with go as well as the last. He is really making some progress.
If you liked this post here is it's "sequel" Shoes
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