Jesse has an infatuation with firefighters. And, for that matter, fire trucks, fire engines, and firehouses.
Not unusual, you say? Little boys love firefighters, policemen, army men, you add? True. So, let me elaborate a bit.
He’s had 2 fire-themed birthday parties, dressed as a firefighter for 3 consecutive Halloweens, owns 4 fire fighter costumes, 1 fire fighter umbrella and raincoat set, 4 model fire house sets, 22 fire engines and 31 firefighter figurines of various size. Each day, he methodically lays out his firefighter costume, invites me into his “fire house” and shows me his gear before suiting up. We have made no fewer than 6 impromptu stops at fire stations we’ve passed on our journeys, and have waylaid something like 10 firefighters from their very real duties in order that Jesse might sit on one of the engines, wear a helmet, or ask “where is your black and white fire dog?” (He’s been often disappointed to learn that Dalmatians are mostly relics of a by-gone firefighting age. If he sees a Dalmatian in his firefighter story book, he LITERALLY expects to see one at the fire house. That literal nature? Yep, that’s ASD.) There are even firefighter coloring books, firefighter pajamas, firefighter DVDs. For a period of time, all Jesse would watch on television was a 1987 firefighter training video we were able to stream through Netflix. He could recite it word for word. It started out as cute. Sometime after viewing 15, it got downright annoying. He had all of us, and PARTICULARLY his older, emotionally labile brother Noah with ASD himself, seeing red.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, a restricted or limited interest (one that plays out in real life more like an obsession) is one of the hallmarks of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These are kids who know every Star Wars character ever introduced, or who can name every dinosaur that ever trod the earth. But I was surprised to discover recently that the MORE restricted the interest, the HIGHER the anxiety – that the latter often incites the former. http://ultimateautismguide.com/2011/06/autism-news-anxiety-restricted-interests/ And, with anxiety being the defining emotion of Asperger’s and other ASD’s, it goes to reason that these kids are destined to experience both – some, more intensely than others. I thought Noah was one for restricted interests, but my sweet Jesse has shown the capability to outpace him red engine for red engine.
This morning, I walked into Jesse’s room and found yet another pile of engines and figures to be re-shelved:
But this time, instead of seeing the mess, I HEARD what he was saying. So I sat down.
“Can I visit your fire station?”
He grinned, freckles and dimples squinched up. “Yes. Yes, you can.”
Then I asked Jesse why he liked firefighters so much.
“’Because’ is not really an answer, Jesse. Why do you like them more than anything else?”
“Because they put out fires and save people.”
They “save people.” I exhaled, and squeezed my arms around him. I will do what I can, with God’s help, to make him feel safe and ease his worried mind.
And in the meantime, I suppose there are worse things he could be interested in.