Ah, obsessions. If you have an autie kid, you know about them. My son, Moe, has had obsessions since he was a year old. At first it was cars. In particular, one blue car from a parking ramp toy, but in a pinch any car would do. Then it was books and anything with letters. This was pre-diagnosis, so at the time we didn't consider them obsessions. In fact, we were very proud of our little man's ability to sit still for so long and amazed at how young he learned his letters.
Then came the electronic toys. Anything with lights and sounds could become all-consuming: the toy phone, followed by the shape sorter, the electric guitar and the zebra bouncer. Around the time my daughter was born, it was the Incrediblock. He would play with that thing, watching the spinning top go around and around at the push of a button, for 45 minutes. Not a typical behavior for sure, but certainly a coping mechanism for the changes that were going on around him, over which he had no understanding and no control.
After Moe's diagnosis, and the all-consuming shopping cart (also with lights and sounds) obsession, we removed all of these toys from the house. They would make appearances during ABA sessions as reinforcers, but for the most part they live in the garage. Occasionally, I will bring one out if I need Moe to sit still for a little while, say, during a haircut or doctor visit. I don't think these obsessions are harmful in and of themselves. Clearly, Moe gets something from the visual stimulation, so I like to allow him a little time with these toys, but they aren't conducive to social interaction.
Moe's latest obsession is water. He has always loved to play in the water, whether it's bath time ("bath" was one of his first words, although we don't hear it much anymore), hanging out in Grandma and Grandpa's pool, or splashing at the water table at school. So as summer approached, and I grew concerned about filling our afternoons, I was excited about playing with sprinkler toys in our backyard and going to some great parks in our area that have really cool water features.
But now Moe has just gotten tall enough to discover the water dispenser in our refrigerator door. Our fridge doesn't have a child lock, so I've been spending a lot of time trying to teach him that pushing the lever is not okay. My efforts so far have not been successful. Moe goes right over and makes himself a nice cold (filtered!) shower. Even as I get in his face and tell him "No!" he giggles and grins like he just discovered the greatest thing in the world. Yesterday, I got the bright idea to tape up the front of the door so he couldn't get to the levers. Moe didn't miss a beat, taking the bottom piece of tape right off, reaching his hand up, and letting it rain. We can disconnect the water supply, but I'd much prefer it if he learned to not do it at all, since I don't want him flooding other people's houses. Clearly, this is going to take some work.