Autism, Fixations, and Selfishness

I recently finished up guest writing for another site about the adjustment from being an aspie husband to an aspie daddy. While I was writing about some of the challenges I faced in those first few weeks of parenthood, a thought kept popping into my head: Wow I come off sounding selfish in this post.

Differentiating Selfishness from Fixation

Selfishness, materialism, greed, self-centeredness – call it what you will, but it’s a prevalent problem in our culture. The subtext of our consumer economy and self-motivated society is one of no sacrifices. You get what you want, when you want, and as much as you want. Therefore, since we are so good at pointing out our own flaws in others, we are quick to point out the inherent selfishness in someone else’s views, actions, or apparent motivations.

Our cultural selfishness creates a difficulty in working with individuals on the spectrum. We tend to interpret material fixations with a form of material selfishness. For example, when I was in elementary school, I made an effort to own every Garfield book published (the narrow ones that had numbers on the spines). Yes, I read each one cover to cover, but what I really loved was lining them up in numerical order on one of my bookshelves. I pursued collection after collection (G.I. Joe, He-Man, Micro Machines), not because I felt they made me cool or because I thought they’d be worth something someday. It was purely for the sake of collection.

image by Sascha Hoffmann on stock.xchng

Now a materialistic typical individual would likely seek bargains out on these, preserve them in their packaging, and sell them later at a higher price. Not so with an aspie fixation. The inherent value of the objects matter nothing. The value resides in having a complete collection for the sake of the collection. If they are also in great shape, that is merely a side effect of a touch of OCD. Where are my numerous childhood collections now? Given to Goodwill, given to nieces and nephews, sold at garage sales, possibly even in some boxes in the parents’ attic. Once the fixation is passed, the inherent value of the collection becomes moot.

Handling a Material Fixation

Fixations can come in many shapes and forms. In fact, people can be collectors without beings on the spectrum and vice versa. Here are some tips if you or a loved one expresses a fixation on collections:

  • Limit the collections. I can’t stress this enough. Having too many collections becomes a financial burden, and you will simply run out of room. As soon as the collecting starts, make sure it stays focused.
  • Be ready to move on. If your child completely loses interest in one collection, don’t force them to maintain it. Move on to the next fixation and get rid of the old collection(s) when ready. You might even be able to make a buck or two off of the stuff.
  • Have a designated space. Collections can quickly spread around the house. They need boundaries.
  • Understand that the pursuit is as rewarding as obtaining. In other words, don’t think you’re doing your aspie any favors by buying the entire set of items, books, games, etc. on eBay. You’ll just be asking them to find a new fixation all the more quickly.

I often hear concerns that encouraging collecting only encourages financial irresponsibility later in life. There is certainly some merit to that concern, but, if you limit the number of collections and you don’t go spending crazy yourself in trying to obtain the collection for them, you’re demonstrating responsibility. Once I got out on my own, I had to quickly learn to balance collecting with necessities. Do I still collect? Yes – to an extent. Independence balanced the urge somewhat when the choice was between paying for a Japanese import of Final Fantasy II for the NES (never released in the States) and paying for utilities. Reason won out.

You ensure this outcome by explicitly teaching and reinforcing life skills and financial managements skills throughout your aspie’s childhood and young adulthood. Then, if they are functioning highly enough to live independently, those skills should be able to temper fixative behaviors.