Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Catering to your kid's obsessions: How much is too much?

I've been planning a birthday party for Max at an art studio, complete with purple craft projects, a table of purple shaving cream, and other purple wonders. Plus, of course, a Cars 2 ice-cream cake. As we've emailed about the event, the coordinator's come to understand just how deep Max's purple passion runs. "Now I'm wondering if it will be a problem for Max if his friends take home their purple projects," she emailed me yesterday.

Um, yeah. It would be a problem. Max would have a giant purple meltdown. He thinks purple is his color, and his alone. If we're talking with someone and I mention that Max likes purple and the other person says "I love purple, too!" Max will say "Noooooo!" And then, as his Official Spokesperson, I will explain that Max likes to be the only person in the room who loves purple, and perhaps they have another color they like?

The exchange with the art studio staffer did make me wonder about whether I give in too much to Max's obsessions. Like the way we'd only go to restaurants that served spaghetti when he was in his spaghetti phase, and how we went through car washes two or three times in a row when he was in his car wash phase. Or how he only wants to sit in corner tables at places, and so we do. Or how when we're driving on a highway, he'll insist on being in the right lane and we'll switch to it. Or how we'll let him watch the same Cars scene on YouTube 10, maybe 20 times in a row.

Of course, sometimes we center life around Max out of necessity. We know we can't go to certain events where there will be crowds and noise, which unnerve Max. We're planning a winter vacation right now and this one restaurant sounds awesome but they ring cowbells between courses and it's a super-busy place, so we can't check it out. And that's perfectly OK—there are other restaurants to visit, other activities to do.

For his art bash this Saturday, though, it's his party and he won't cry if has all the purple he wants to, as the song goes. So I emailed the staffer, "I think only Max should make a purple project, and the other kids can use other colors." And that's the way it will be.

Still, I'm thinking I might need to take a stronger stance on non-birthday events. I do not want Max to grow up thinking the world, purple or not, revolves around him.



  1. Personally, I'm fine with indulging just about any phase that doesn't cause harm or violate someone else's rights. I've become quite adept at building robots out of just about anything at all (french fries are my favorite medium). If that's what it takes to keep the peace in a restaurant, then that's what I'm going to do.

    As long he's not hurting or annoying anyone, Max loving the color purple just doesn't strike me as that big of a deal. It's quirky and it's cute and IT'S MAX.

  2. i agree with julia. the things you listed that you indulge are not big deal things. i do that with both my kids, the neurotypical one as well as the one with CP. keeping the peace.

    but when it comes to the big things, i don't give in, and i know you don't either. like i make my two year old hold my hand in the parking lot or i carry her. she cannot walk by herself in and out of the cars. things like that. i try and give them choices, but then if they melt down anyway and it's important, that's how it goes.

    but if max wants to be the only one with purple, or if he has to sit on the corners on tables, no big deal!

    i love your blog. thanks for being a safe place to talk about these things. :)

  3. I'm speaking from 55 years experience.

    Billy is afraid of heights. I spent years with behavior mod, threats, rewards and finally realized that this is something he cannot physically control. Now we do not go to places where height is an issue (like at concerts we get seats on the floor). I am just sorry for the anguish I caused him all those other times.

    Our kids have enough to deal with - I think we should accommodate them whenever we can. The rest of the world has options!

  4. Hey Ellen, I want to offer a slightly different perspective. I've been reflecting on this a lot as of late because my sister is having a tough time in life. My sister is almost 22 years-old. She has Alopecia Universalis, so since age 3 she's had no hair and other immune issues. Like any child, she wanted things her way, had obsessions and the like. Unlike other kids though, my parents always gave in. Later in life it got to the point that she lost most of her friends, not because she looked different but because she was an unbearable brat. That was hard on her. And things are still hard and not because she doesn't have hair. Even now she is rigid and unflexible with most things. She still expects to get her way. She is seriously unprepared for adult life. So, I personally know that it's tempting to indulge Max, and you do it from the best place in your heart. (Birthdays of course are okay!) But, he is going to grow-up and be a man. Things that may keep the peace now, may make life more difficult for HIM than necessary in the future. (And when you and Dave are no longer around, difficult for Sabrina. That's my issue now.) A good litmus test would be asking yourself if you'd let Sabrina get away with it. :) Just my 2 cents as the sister to a person with a medical condition. Love to all of you!

  5. My daughter is ten and has an intellectual disability and only wants to wear blue clothes. We have given in because we decided it was harmless and seemed to be comforting to her. I agree that keeping the peace goes a long way, at least at this point in life. I have given in to this, but I don't give in to unacceptable behavior, such as hurting the dog.

  6. It is hard. Sammie B went through a "Dora" phase and I too catered to it. I loved that she was so interested in something (totally age-appropriate) and that she just LIT UP when she saw "dora." It also was seriously encouraging her speech . . . she started saying "hola," and counting in Spanish - so it WAS bringing value. Lots of it. That said, I was constantly giving in to her demands to watch Dora - I think b/c I was also just excited that we'd reached this point where she had enough words to demand an activity that she wanted.

    Anyway, my husband would often say, "instead of Dora, let's watch ____" and she'd cry. I got annoyed with him b/c I said he was just doing it b/c he didn't want to watch Dora . . . and that may have been true, but he also was just encouraging her to watch OTHER things too . . . and I know there's value in that.

    Anyway, like everything else in this journey, its a balancing act . . . balancing "catering" to their obsessions with encouraging them to go a little outside their comfort zone as well.

  7. Oh, Ellen, I read the title of your post and thought: yeah, that's an issue we have here too. It IS such a delicate balancing act. You really want your kid to be OK and not feel the world is against them, to feel like their choices are being listened to and honored.

    And yet... and yet... if we constantly shift everything in their world to make things go exactly their way, how are we helping them learn to live in the larger world where it doesn't? If I always let Jake wear a yellow T-shirt, what happens when his last clean one gets dirty before laundry day?

    So I try to do the dance of indulging him most of the time but insisting on flexibility on his part regularly enough that he gets used to the demand for it, doesn't see it as the end of the world when things go down differently than what he requested. Or so I try.

    The first below zero day I try to make him wear the dreaded long sleeves, I'll let you know how it goes.

  8. I read all of these with interest. Julia, I know what you mean about indulging in things that don't cause harm/violate other people's rights. But I worry that indulging him within our family is spoiling him by catering to his obsessions and making him feel entitled/like the world spins around him. Because here's what just happened tonight: These two nice teen boys who come over to play with Max once a week bought him some birthday presents. Except they were all Cars things, and not Cars 2 things. Max started wailing and saying "NOOOOO! Arrrs oooh!" ["Cars 2!"] He actually took one of the things and tried to drop it into the kitchen garbage. I explained the situation to the boys, thanked them profusely. Then I told Max how not nice it was to cry when someone gave him a present. He was inconsolable until he realized that this packet of stickers they'd gotten him had some Cars 2 characters. Then he calmed down. Meanwhile, the boys left with their presents. Sigh.

  9. Our M has autism, so he's got all sorts of rigidities and obsessions. We've realized over the past few months that it would be easy to have our whole lives revolve around making sure we followed each of M's rituals to keep him happy. However, not only would this make it more difficult for him to someday function in the "real world" (which won't be so accommodating) but it will drive us all up the wall.

    So, we're going by the rule of asking "will this greatly inconvience anyone else? Does it impact the rest of our family negatively? Is it healthy?"

    Right now, M has an obsession with bathrooms. He talks about them non-stop. He pretends there are bathrooms in the car and won't get in the car without "using" the car bathroom. He wants to visit every bathroom multiple times when we're out of the house. He would be happy to just wash and dry his hands over and over when we're out.

    It would be really easy for one of us to run errands with Baby J and the other to stay home with M, or stay in the bathroom with M. But, that would keep us from being together as a family. So - at our behavioral therapist's suggestion - we don't allow him any trips to the bathroom when we're at stores unless he has a dirty diaper. When we go to a restaurant though, we take him before the food comes and let him was his hands once, but we're not going to get up and down once our food comes.

    For other, smaller things, we let him do them if he/we remember (like being the one to turn off the tv), but if someone else does them then M has to deal with it and wait for another turn (obviously we help him deal with the feelings of frustrating that might come up).

  10. When i was really little i had a lot a fear over my parents dying in car crashes. If it was dark outside and they were not home I would cry and cry and cry. My parents did not give in to this and kept on going out until I got better.

    when I was school age i was afraid of movie theaters and the dark i would again cry and refuse to go inside. Guess what they wisly did they took me all the kiddie movies until i got over it. Today I love to go to the theather.

    I know this is a little off topic from purple loving but my point is if u do not push Max to be in crowds share his favorite thing and not be picky he will grow up thinking the world resoles abound him and that is not a good thing. People call me selfish but i know that i be worse off if my parents had sucomed to my fears.

    My therapist told me that avoidance only makes the thing you fear worse in the long term

    ps Max should learn how be in crowds because as he approach teenage years there are dances and really fun stuff with a lot of people

    pps If u wamt to talk to my mom let me know

  11. My son has aspergers. When he was little he was very ridgid. He had to eat certain things and wear certain things. For dinner he always wanted a peanut butter sandwich. So at first that is what he got. Then we started giving him half of one and the rest of his food would be what we were having, he just needed that crutch. Now he loves different foods, he grumbles but we say he has to at least take a bite. Then he usually loves it. I heard a good quote that it is the parents job to join the child in their world, so we can gradually introduce them to ours.

  12. @Ellen - I hear you. We need to make sure that our boys are likable, because no one will want to help a child/adult who's unpleasant and rude. It's a very hard balancing act.

  13. Hi Ellen, I have two boys, boy are on the austism spectrum. I went to an aspergers/autism conference last week, and they had a great way to organize fixations/obsessions.

    In ones room, as much time as you want. In house, 30 minutes, then we move on. Outside of house, you need to work with society rules. Its hard when they are little though I know. But with driving, I tell my boys "I went to driving school, I follow the rules they gave me." Its very concrete to them. I would make a social story about "Purple is for everyone!" Or something like that. Of course my youngest gets string cheese every day for lunch because, sometimes I love the sound of silence. :) -Kristina Cline

  14. My personal view is if the obsession/phase doesn't impact anyone else, let it go. So, wearing only certain clothes is OK for my son, but he doesn't get to say what *I* am wearing. He can rip up a sticker that he's given when we are at a museum, but he doesn't get to rip up his cousin's sticker. I let my kid be himself, and most of the things you're doing seem OK to me (and I agree it's of utmost importance that you revolve around his schedule and only go places that he can handle), but the "purple is only for Max" thing I think goes over the line a bit, even at his birthday party. It's a balancing act to make their world more comfortable while at the same time making sure that they understand that the world doesn't revolve only around them. Our rule is that we accommodate where we can, but when it starts impacting others (not in our immediate family), that's where it ends.

  15. maybe he is the way he is because you allow it.

  16. I'm with Christina. Of course he should be indulged on his birthday and when on one else is involved I think anything is fine. But if max has the ability to understand Then I would make sure he knows it's not ok to tell other people that he doesn't like a present or that only he can like something. If max truly didn't have this level of cognitive ability then it's up to others to step up and deal with the obsessions and what would be "bratty" behavior from any other kid. If he does it's time to start putting a stop to it.

  17. Asking people if they like another color because he likes to be the only one in the room that likes purple crosses the line. Same with the Cars birthday presents, and buying a whole new Cars 2 DVD because he wants to hang the one he has on the door. You want him to be able to function in society as independently as he can, and you are only making that harder for him. With the birthday presents, there needs to be consequences for his action, and sending the sweet boys home with their gifts did not teach him anything. Since that is already done, maybe you could talk to him, explain to him how to accept gifts (even gifts he does not like), role-play how to accept them, even make a social story for him (as someone else mentioned) and then having the boys come back over and try again.

  18. You are always stating how a mission is to make Max be accepted in society as *Max*. For people to accept him, a see him for *who he is*

    While Max may very well love purple, it is not acceptable to tell a person that they should change their color preference because Max gets upset. It's not acceptable to allow two boys who put their heart(and money) in a gift to have that gift *literally* tossed away.

    You would not do this with a neurotypical child.

    Max most certainly should be accepted with open arms by society, by his peers, by neurotypical individuals. However, to have this happen he must learn that he can't get everything he wants. For no one gets everything they want.

    Avoiding resturants and other places that are overstimulating is something you must do as it impacts Max greatly.

    However, his learning that other people like purple, that others can make and use and love purple, that gifts should not be thrown away, that he cannot get every-single-thing-he-wants...that *no* exists, is vital in ensuring that he is accepted by others. Why? Because learning to recieve gifts, to know others can love and make the color purple, that certain foods aren't always learning these things *he* learns acceptance.


Thanks for sharing!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...