Monday, October 01, 2007

I need help

From the BTDT* crowd. If you have a child who obsesses, I would love for you to share your experience. Please understand I don't mean a kid who was totally caught up in one thing for a while and then eventually got over it and went back to a variety of interests, I mean a kid who is always obsessed about something.

I don't think I would have known the difference before living with Frankie. He has been obsessed with WoW and we got him for a while to spend some time with another game. He did, and the rest of the day he could talk about nothing else. We have tried a couple of times to get him interested in all sorts of things. It either doesn't work at all, or he gets this intense, obsessive interest in it. It really looks like he can shift interests, but whatever he is interested in consumes him.

Though he complained very much about Brian not letting him hang out with his friends, and about how he does not have any friends of his own, he is very resistant to any suggestion that might change that. He does not want to go to the GLBT-youth support group, or any other youth group. He does not want to go to organizations for kids in foster care. He does not want for us to invite one of the couple of kids his own age at his school over to hang out with him at the house.

I mention this because I think it is part of the same issue. I think the reason he has trouble making friends is that he can't maintain an interest in what other people care about. His own obsessions take over. It is all he can talk about. It is more complicated than that, but that is part of what is going on.

I mentioned Asperger's to Hubby, who is a special education teacher, and he said to me in his Mister Rogers voice, "Children with Asperger's have difficult understanding other people's emotions. Frankie has trouble regulating his own." Okay. Check. But again, the diagnosis might not really matter. I need to decide how to deal with it.

Idea One: accept and enjoy Frankie just the way he is. Whenever I have decided to try to change something basic about a kid it has just made me crazy. As I have said before, I suck at behavior modification. When kids have made major leaps in their development or behavior it has always been because they have decided to do so.

To be clear, I am able to enforce basic rules and insist on basic respect. Last night, when Frankie ran out slamming doors I walked down and, with a quiet but insistent voice, made him come back up, speak appropriately with Brian (they did not resolve anything) and then walk quietly to bed without slamming doors. I can refuse to buy junk food, or let them spend more time than I think they should on video games. All that I can do.

But "being obsessive" is, I suspect, too much like "being deceptive" or "being shy." It is part of who he is and I have doubts that any level of concern or intervention on my part is going to make an immediate difference. It will either go away because it is symptomatic of something that can be treated (possible, but I'm not counting on it), or because he heals after years in a safe environment.

Idea Two: Get some good ideas from people who deal with this on a regular basis for how to respond to it.

I feel like I have a handle on how to help Frankie deal with any instance of frustration melt-down. I point out to him that him that he is getting frustrated and he should apply his skills. I stay quiet myself. I tell him to take a deep breath. I let him talk for a while and then I tell him it is my turn and I insist that he listens to me. It takes some energy, but at the end of it, Frankie is calm again.

And I have realistic expectations about his over-all behavior. My goal is not: help Frankie become the sort of kid who handles frustration well. My goal is just to help him calm down whenever he is doing poorly.

But I don't know whether I should do something similar with the obsessive behavior, and if so what exactly it should be.

Of course sometimes the frustration and obsession overlap. Last evening he was trying to do something that probably can't be done. He was anxious and was not letting it go. I told him, "I will help you with this one more time, but that will be it."
He said, "I know."
"I don't think you did know until I told you."
"No, I do know. This time it will work."
"Frankie, put your hands in your lap and listen to me." (Pause to wait for him to assume good listening posture). "I know this is important to you, but it is not important to me. I am willing to help you one more time, but if it doesn't work, I am going to do something important to me."
He seemed to get it.

And when it didn't work I left. After a while he came back and announced that he was going to take a completely different approach to the problem. He was calm and spent some time thinking out loud about what might work. He was less intense, but he was still stuck on the same thing. (And yes, it was a WoW thing, but I don't think that is the point).

So this is long, but I really need some feedback here. Is my usual approach of acceptance plus boundaries to protect my own piece of mind the right way to go? Or is there something else I should be trying?

So...ideas anyone?

*Been There Done That


  1. I'm definitely not an expert in this area, but I think simply setting appropriate boundaries is all you can do.

    I think you are right in saying that this isn't something you can change in Frankie, as it's really an innate characteristic.

    Perhaps medication might help?

    I honestly don't know what to tell you, other than you need to draw your own boundaries very firmly to avoid being driven completely crazy.

    You hang in there...

  2. Hey, I'm a new reader, coming from a bunch of transracial parenting blogs...

    In coming to terms with my *own* obsessive behaviour (not at the scale of Frankie's) it is helpful for me to understand obsession as a response to fear, and to ask myself "What am I afraid of?" That's probably not immediately helpful for you, though... Good luck.

  3. I like what you are doing with mirroring. I would do more of that...make him tell you what he hears.

    It sounds like he is OCD. Does he have any other "tics"?


  4. I am an adoptive mom of an OCD child who came from foster care. And I have OCD myself. I never had the compulsive hand-washing side of OCD, but I certainly have the obsessive side.

    I can tell you from my own experience that he CANNOT control the obsession if he is truly OCD. There is nothing you can do to "talk yourself down" when you are OCD. The instance you talked about where it failed and later he had to re-attempt to get it done another way made me smile. That is SOOOOO me. I cannot let something go if I think it must get done, no matter how many times i fail.

    I truly believe that had I not "found" medication 8 yeara ago, my marriage would've failed and I would not be a mother to 3 wonderful chidlren today. My OCD ruined my life and soured all my relationships. I was obsessed, and nothing or noone else mattered when I was obsessed with something.

    I am on a very low dose of medication. About 2 years ago I decided to take myself off medication with doctor's permission and tried to live without it for a while. That lasted all of 3 weeks. Not a good plan. Even with medication, I still obsess over things, some things must be done just so, but I can cope far better than I ever coud've pre-medication.

    Please try to get him assessed and possibly medicated. He will thank you for it.

  5. Mrs Butter B5:23 PM

    Hey, I mentioned this once before, but thought it worth a repeat- for OCD, often kids will see a decrease in symptomology if they are treated for yeast problems in their stomach. Talk to the dr for more details. I know that I read about someone else getting treated for it not long ago (I think on a Clubmom blog called kariannaspectrum.)

    Would it help to find him a video game group? Even an online chatroom for kids? When I got tired of hearing "Hannah MOntana" a bazillion times a day, I parked my girl at the chatrooms. Terrible, aren't I. She tired of it eventually and came back to real life.

    Not very therapeutic, I know, but certainly saves the adult's sanity. Perhaps if Frankie has such trouble IRL making friends, it might be easier online. Less pressure, more flexibility with identity, less judgementalness. (Is that a word?)

    Just a thought.

  6. I have a very obsessive personality. In fact, I'm going to the doctor next week because I think I need to go back on medication. I'm sort of germ-phobic, not to a huge extreme but I am. I also am afraid of bugs being on my bed or in my clothes. I'm a checker.

    Anyway, I think I need medication. But back to Frankie, I'm also tend to get obsessed with things.

    Like I'll become obsessed with a Broadway show. My obsession now is my credit report. I'm obsessed with cleaning it up.

    Mrs Butter B is on to something and that is online groups. See, IRL nobody I know wants to listen to me talk about my positive trade lines and the letter I wrote to the collection agency for my erroneous posting. But there are tons of online forums where I can talk with people all day long if I want to.

    It's about boundaries, I think. I think what you said was important. You understand that WoW is important to Frankie, but it isn't too you. Point him in the direction of people that are similarly obsessed.

    Hope this helps.

  7. Slightly off topic suggestion: since it is possible to make him direct his interest towards another game, it might be useful to channel his obsession to something that might help him. Since he likes trivia, he might enjoy crossword puzzles... this might additionally help him with his language skills. An obsession with Sudoku might help his numerical skills. Or there might be other puzzles/games that are challenging but help him learn something. This might not make your life easier, but may actually be of benefit to him later in life.
    Just a thought...

  8. I and my son are both OCD. I agree with Sheri on the medication issue. Without meds no one in my life can deal with me. I still drive my hubby nuts, but he has learned to cope.

    The online stuff like message boards are a good idea too. I have set Cody up with some online penpals, and he has enjoyed IM'ing and playing games with them and I get left alone and get some quiet time.

  9. We allowed the obsession as long as it didn't interfere with her ability to function (in relative terms). Our other non-negotiable about her obsessions was that she could not lash out at us over something she was obsessed about. If she got too mean or if she could function less than her "normal" ability to do so, then we would tell her that we were sad it was controlling her and that we needed to be in charge of whatever it was until she could control her feelings. We would give her another shot fairly quickly and then periodically until she could control it or it became an obsession of the past.

  10. Lionmom's suggestion is a good one. We do that here too. If what ever he is obsessing about (whether it be clothes, video game, tv, whatever) is making him upset or angry to the point of lashing out it must stop immediately. He does keep it in check most of the time.


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