ASD & Obsessions – Do we really understand them?

I have written many times about obsessions.  It is an area I believe that we do not know enough about with our children on the Autism spectrum.

Today a Facebook friend of mine shared an inspiring and amazing story of Blue Jay.  Now a 14 year old boy, this interview was filmed when he was 12 and studying music and composing at The Julliard School of Music in New York. At 12 he had already written no less than five symphonies.  Most famous composers may write five in their entire lives!

Blue Jay (not his real name!) is being compared to Mozart or Beethoven and experts are saying that it is 200 years at least since we have seen somebody of his talent and ability.

Whilst Blue Jay has not been diagnosed as Autistic, I can see many similarities for many of our children. He is highly sensitive to sound and noise; he pictures the music in his head and then writes it down; he has the ability to even turn music upside down, transpose the treble clefs and bass clefs and play music backwards.

From the age of two, he was drawing cellos and when his mother took him into a music store he knew how to hold it properly – even though he had never seen a cello before.  Neither of his parents, nor his brother, is musically inclined. However, his parents are very supportive of him.  He is on a scholarship at Julliard to study music, and completing High school at another school.

So what is the the difference between Blue Jay and a child on the spectrum?  When everybody realised he was a child prodigy they supported him in anyway they could to help him become a master at his craft….the minute a child is diagnosed on the spectrum everybody seems focuses on trying to make them normal!

Blue Jay’s story is the very reason why we need to encourage, or at the very least understand, our ASD children’s obsessions – you just never know where they may lead. Instead of working to make our children ‘fit-in’, how can we find the magic in their obsessions, so they to can become masterful at what they want to do?  Are we also missing out on other prodigy’s because when we label a child ASD we then try to make them fit our model of normal? While I don’t know the story behind this journey, and I am sure there is quite the story to tell, Blue Jay has been fortunate to have a talent that is quite simply extraordinary. However, I believe many of our ASD children also have talents that are extraordinary but often misunderstood. I invite you to watch the video below, its long, but worth it.

Instead of trying to make our children normal, what difference would it make in our child’s life if we honored their obsessions, and worked to find the mastery in the obsession? What if we made them right and instead of trying to make them fit into the ‘age appropriate’ model of academic school life or better still the curriculum was altered to fit them – not just adapt particular subjects, but adapted the curriculum so they could focus on their obsessions and learn the skills from them?  How different would their world be (and their stress levels be) if we took their obsession and through them helped create opportunities to learn?

Once many ASD children leave school they naturally gravitate to a job or a university degree that is in their area of obsession. So why do we make it so hard for them for 13 years before they get there? Of course, not every child will follow a career in their obsession, but if we make it OK for them to discover themselves through the obsession, what ever it is now, how different would it make their life… and yours?

It is our role and our obligation as parents and as teachers to understand and teach our children through those obsessions – not discount them or worse still try to dissuade them. Whilst most of our children are not be child prodigies, they are however often extremely knowledgeable about a certain area.  As many parents know already, the school system does not cater well for our children and we really must ask – is what we are doing really worth all the stress and the angst – surely there must be a better way?

In an interview on his website,
Jay was asked: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
In 20 years I see myself about 34, 35 years old, and I’ll probably be on the planet Earth unless they started offering private spaceship rides to the moon.

Will you still be composing?

He replied “I might be. I don’t know. I can’t really see that far in the future. My crystal ball is not functioning. It’s down. Server’s down.”

Remind you of anybody?

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