Carrie has this really fun habit that makes me want to drive my car through a crowded shopping mall. She has this need to fixate on events or happenings that are so far away that no one would ever think of them. She began asking me three days ago which hotel we’re going to stay at for our beach trip.
The beach trip we’re taking next July.
She wants to know the name of the hotel. When I tell her I don’t know, she starts suggesting some. MOST of the ones she suggests are COMPLETELY MADE UP IN HER MIND. I don’t know where FairyTale Inn & Suites is located, and I’m pretty sure Star Hammer Inn exists only in her head. But she asks about it around forty times a day. That last part was not a joke.
It took me years to figure out why she does this stuff, but I’ve finally figured it out: it’s because I’m being punished for something I did in a previous life. Okay, that was only mostly a joke. No, Carrie fixates on these far-off events because they are a safe thing to worry about.
She can’t let herself worry about her new teacher, because that is happening right now. She can’t worry about what jacket she needs to wear, because she’ll need one in just a few weeks. She can’t give herself the luxury of worrying about riding on the school bus on the field trip, because that’s coming up pretty soon. Instead, she grabs onto a safe topic, something that she knows will happen but that will be a no-big-deal event; it’s also something so far off, in this case a trip to the beach, that she can wrap her head and her emotions around it.
Here’s what we take from this: first, this is a coping mechanism, and as coping mechanisms for autistic people go, this one is neither violent nor passive-aggressive. She’s going to simply say, “Which hotel are we staying at?” many, MANY times a day, usually when she’s stressed or remembering something stressful. The second is that we do still need to teach her how to cope without letting this fixation interfere in her day to day life. Further down the road, if she’s stressed at work and keeps asking the same seemingly random question over and over, it will lead to trouble in the work place and in her relationships.
Internet to the rescue! The other day, Carrie began fixating and I began my numb-voice rote answers. But this one time she caught me and wrapped me up in her hotel fixation, I happened to not be doing anything. Instead of playing into the fixation, I talked to her about travel websites and sent her over to the computer. She logged on to Expedia.com and has been happily browsing hotel listings for the beach, and I haven’t heard another word about hotels. Maybe we’ve translated the need to discuss the hotel as a means of coping into being able to just look up hotels when she’s stressed. It’s a far better and less noticeable way of handling her stress, and besides, who doesn’t love to look online for vacation destinations? It’s harmless and it’s helping her.