He runs to make his mind still, to organize himself and to get rid of the noise from this loud, confusing world. The more he's moved, the more he's introduced patterns and rhythm into his routine. Laps around the house are a daily ritual. He's made it more complex as he's developed, but the basics are the same. There is a pattern of movement -- specific foot patterns based on whatever song or chant he chooses to accompany the run, and he can not be stopped until he is ready to be.

This is James, and this is our story.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"All I need is this. And this. I don't need anything more. Except this."

Remember that scene from The Jerk, where Navin tells Marie that the ashtray is the only thing he needs?
And that's the only thing I need is this. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray... And this paddle game. - The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need... And this remote control. - The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need... And these matches. - The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball...
That is James.  Well, just with more kid-friendly objects.   He is a compulsive collector of completely random objects - all that he desperately can not do without, none that he actually does anything with. 

He used to be obsessed with things that were the same.  From the time he could grasp objects, he would always have 2 of the same thing.  Didn't matter what they were, but they had to be a match- one for each hand.  Random objects that came in 2s. 

He got a Noah's Ark Little People play set when he turned 1 and I cringed.   If he had one animal from the ark, he HAD to have the other.  He always knew where to find the other, even if I didn't.  He would lead me around, at the age of 1, to collect the match, and he wouldn't stop until he got it. 

When he found out my next door neighbor had a drawer full of markers, he would pull me to her house daily to pick new ones.  He carried 2 markers around for a year.  Not the same ones, just grabbed two to have with him wherever he was.

He started taking a social skills class at 3, and each child got a prize at the end of class.  The first week he picked out a red plastic duck.  The second week he picked out a blue plastic duck.  The third week, green.  The fourth week?  Yup, pink.  The fifth week they focused on "re-directing" (he still ended up with a duck though).

As he got older, the collections changed.  There didn't have to be 2 of anything.  They just seemed to have to be "something".  Trinkets.  A bouncy ball, or the die from the game, or even the empty plastic cup.  He would carry these objects around like they were treasures. 

I remember one very long, frustrating day with a lot of meltdowns and attempts to re-direct.  As Tony and I both seemed about to lose it, we looked over at James, who was trying to hang on to at least 15 random objects at the same time.  We both burst out laughing.  I think it was the empty water bottle he kept dropping and frantically picking back up that put us over the edge and had us reciting that Steve Martin scene.

During his next phase of collecting, he would put everything in little buckets (preferably with lids) and keep them on the shelf behind his spot on the couch.  Every so often throughout the day, he would check to make sure it was all still there.  At the end of the day I would dump the contents into a drawer.  

As time went on, he just started putting most of the things straight into the drawer (and then labeled it with his name). 

Now when he runs in the house with a new object, he goes straight for the drawer.  The new treasure is placed inside and the drawer shut, and then checked and rechecked.  Sometimes I don't even think he looks at it first, but I can never get rid of any of his collection, because he remembers everything he's ever added to it. 

When the drawer gets too full, I move the contents into a random box in my room.  He's OK with that as long as I tell him I'm doing it, and he can see the box with his stuff in it.  Then he starts over again with the empty drawer. 

Months later he'll ask me about that "blue ball" and I'm expected to know exactly which one and where it is.  Most of the time I actually do, but only because I've experienced what happens when I don't.

If he's recently added to his treasure chest and we have to go out,  he'll remind me to lock the house, check the alarm and make sure the gate is shut.  He has about 7 soccer balls, but cries about bringing one to practice because someone else might use it.  After I pull a Mom and tell him he has to bring a ball, he wants to bring Johnny's, not his.  If he does bring his own, he spends all practice making sure that I have it in my possession if it isn't in his.

Collections aren't limited to objects.  He makes videos.  Thousands of them.  Mostly about traffic lights or our cats, but they all need to be saved and cataloged.  He collects TV shows, begging for them to be saved to our DVR even though he doesn't really like TV and has rarely gone back to watch one.  He notices if I erase one though. 

He collects apps on the iTouch.  He collects songs.  He needs to have them.  Since his love of music and games is obviously real and gives him confidence, I've always tried to nurture that.  Games and downloaded songs become rewards, until soon it becomes clear that he is getting obsessive about the collection itself and not the content.  That is when I have to start denying him, and that withdrawal is painful for both of us.

As the new meds start to help with his anxieties, we'll begin to address the hoading issues more directly and try to help him develop some skills to overcome his need to collect and control.  I know he will always continue to collect, but hopefully we can lead him in a direction where the collection doesn't overwhelm him (or us!)

But for now, I know where the blue bouncy ball is.  And the ticket from the deli counter last month.  And the string that was once attached to the balloon he got at a party last year.  Just don't ask me where my wallet or the keys to the car are right now, because I don't have the energy to think about it and quite honestly, I couldn't care less.

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