According to the diagnostic criteria, we Aspie/autists seem to have quite the fascination with specific topics, objects, or subject matter. Specifically, the criteria say:
B – Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):
1 – Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
2 – Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat same food every day).
3 – Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g., strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).
4 – Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g. apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).
Yep, note the bolded part, especially the “strong attachment to or preoccupation with…” phrase.
But then the authors of these criteria have to go and add the word “unusual” in front of the word “objects”. Well, damn. Personally, I don’t consider rainbows, full-text research studies, or MP3 music files to be “unusual” but hell–what do I know? 🙂
Anyway, about this whole “preoccupation” thing…
This often results in collections of various items, whether physical or virtual/technological (as a child, mine consisted of the former, primarily because technology hadn’t advanced this far yet, whereas in adulthood, they’ve tended to favor the latter).
Childhood collections included rocks, Legos, and rainbows–stickers, notebooks, blankets, rugs, etc. It wasn’t a case of needing to have every rainbow thing that I saw; it was more along the lines of, if there was something to be had, and it came in rainbow, it was mine. And of course, I collected books.
It wasn’t just about collecting these items. I looked at them–and used them–every day. I built entire garage-sale-table-size Lego cities. I read all my books countless times. You can’t really use rocks for too much; needless to say, that collection was shorter-lived.
Adolescent collections included earrings, CDs, magazines, creative writings, and those cheapie computer games that came on 5 1/4″ floppy disks (you know–the ones that actually “flopped”–remember those??) and cost five bucks. I also collected desktop backgrounds – the little low-resolution abstract squares from 1998 that you could set to “repeat” across your computer desktop to create a “background”? Yeah, those. And of course, I collected books.
As an adult, I now collect very specific movies and TV series on DVD. I my collections have otherwise taken a very virtual and intangible form – MP3 music files (almost seven terabytes now! Over a half-million songs), computer graphics (although these days, they’re the crystal clear, infinite-color, high-resolution (HD) type, that could fill a movie screen), and of course, individual research studies in PDF form off of PubMed.gov (if you’ve ever wanted to know if herbal remedies, acupuncture, meditation/mindfulness, positive thinking, laughter, breathing, intermittent fasting, Paleo diets, homeopathy, or nutritional supplements really work for anything, here it is!) I also collect ebooks, website bookmarks, and a few select magazines every once in a while (such as “Wired” and the like). And–you guessed it–I collect books.
Why do we collect things? What do these collections do for us? What benefit do they provide?
As always, I can’t speak for anyone but myself. I’m not entirely sure why I do this. But after some contemplation, I came up with a few ideas.
First, I can tell you what it’s not. It’s not greed. It’s not some form of extreme materialism. It’s not the desire to surround myself with Stuff. And even though it might appear (to some) to be a hoarding tendency, it’s not that, either (even the TV show, as contrived as it might have evolved to be, makes me cringe at my core). I also don’t think that my collecting things is any kind of obsessive or compulsive tendency.
I think it does bring a sense of satisfaction. I think it might bring some anxiety relief. I think it does provide a kind of fulfillment. I think it might involve a “thrill of the hunt”, a love of exploration. Everything I collect does seem to bring me some sort of pleasure, a needed scratching of an itch. For me, it’s more akin to a complex “stim” activity.
My surroundings might be messier than I’d like, but my collections are always extremely organized. CDs, DVDs, books, music files, etc, are all neatly alphabetized and/or categorized–according to genre or style, etc. It’s the only way I can keep my head together.
I do like to limit my number of collections at any given time. They do take some time and energy to pursue and then, once I’ve obtained these items, they take additional time and energy to organize, and in some cases they require investment and/or physical space (although in recent years, most have not required any tangible resources, other than perhaps computer drive space).
I can’t explain this phenomenon entirely, nor the satisfaction that it can bring. But I do know that the fulfillment is there–not that I felt empty before. It’s just something that’s always been pervasive throughout my life and those of many others I’ve talked to or read about. The only differences are in the details. 🙂
(Image Credit: r0pyns)