Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The fixation situation

We are currently in the middle of a video game lock-down at our house. It's been an interesting week.

Joseph, like many Aspies, has an issue with fixation. He will become so interested in one thing that that's all he wants to talk about or think about. Where Joseph is somewhat atypical is that he has shifted his fixations several times in his life. The first one I ever noticed was with the movie cases for our Disney movies. That was when he was very young, not yet three and he would spend hours looking at them and lining them up in rows. A more recent one was Scooby Doo (that was hell) and his current fixation is video games. It's become a bit of an issue.

You might be saying "Video games? So what? Don't all kids like video games?" Well, yes but a fixation is a lot more intense interest than what a neurotypical child might have. Joseph will play video games as much as we let him. When he's not playing them he's reading their instruction books or their strategy guides over and over. When you talk to him he wants to talk about video games even if you try to engage him in a conversation about something else. He likes to draw pictures of characters in his video games. When he takes a bath he uses his bath toys to act out scenes from his video games. It just never ends.

I don't feel like the video game fixation is 100% bad though. In fact, I see some positives to it. A lot of neurotypical kids like video games and being knowledgeable about games gives Joseph something to talk about with other kids. This is huge because social difficulties are common with Aspies. There are other benefits too. I think playing the Wii has improved his gross motor skills. I know it sounds crazy but if you've ever seen him play you would agree. He throws his whole body into whatever he plays. I think playing his DS has improved his fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination. The games he plays are always age appropriate so I don't feel like he's being exposed to anything negative just by playing them. I think a lot of the games he plays have improved his logical thinking skills and his ability to read. (Joseph is in first grade and reads at a fourth grade level so he's able to do even text heavy games on his own.)

So there's a lot of good with video games. Jesse and I noticed though that the fixation was becoming more and more intense. If Joseph asked to play his DS and I said no he would immediately collapse to the floor and cry. If we asked him to put his strategy guides aside and come eat dinner he would yell at us and then spend dinnertime whining about his book. Lots of times he wouldn't even eat because he was so anxious about wanting to get back to his book.

So we laid down the law. Time for a video game detox. No wii, no Playstation, no DS, no computer games. He can still read his instruction books or his strategy guides for short periods of time (because I can't bear to tell him he can't read something, it goes against my nature) and he can still draw video game pictures (because he's still delayed in the area of fine motor skills so I think any time spent with a pencil in his hand is a good thing) but that's it. We're encouraging him to spend time doing other things that he likes without whining and complaining about video games.

We've been playing a lot of board games this week and doing a lot of Legos. There's been a lot of dancing to the Lilo and Stitch soundtrack and lots of time playing with toy cars. Joseph invented a game where he and Elle throw stuffed animals at my exercise ball and yell "Boomba!". It's called Boomba.

We've also spent a lot of time saying things like "No, remember? You're not allowed to play DS this week." and "You've been talking about video games with Grandma for 45 minutes now. That's enough." I've explained several times that once he gets video games back again it's still going to be for very limited amounts of time.

I don't know if we can break this fixation. Actually, I probably can't. I can't rewire Joseph's brain. I'm just trying to get him over the height of this fixation without turning into a little blob with tv screens for eyes. The goal here isn't to make him stop liking video games so much, it's just to try to help him find a good balance between his fixation the rest of the world.

We'll see. Three days down and four to go.

(Thank you aj for this link. I had not seen that before.)


Cathy said...

How interesting to read. I have a boy in my preschool class with Aspergers (just recently diagnosed, but we all, mom, teachers, therapists) knew for awhile. So this was a very interesting post (and it gave me another insight). I'm looking forward to reading more!
Thanks so much for sharing with us all.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man. That sounds rough. Good luck with the lock-down.

Anonymous said...

My step brothers is baseball, Star Trek(s) and Harry Potter. The boy I babysat in college was maps and fans. One of the things we found with both of them was that if we could relate something to their fixation, they could process it better. My dad made a diagram of emotions as they related to Star Trek characters for my step brother in school. That was years ago and there are times that he'll stay still "I'm feeling empty like Data" or "I'm feeling angry like Worf"

It could be worse, I read an article in college about a teenaged Apsergers boy who's fixation was porn...