Friday, March 16, 2007


"Attached to an object (other than a soft toy or blanket)." Last fall, I confidently checked "no" beside that item on the autism checklist – Bub liked to have doggy-and-blankie at bedtime, but aside from that reassuringly normal preference, he showed no unusual attachments. To be sure, he would fixate obsessively on a single toy whenever we went to a playgroup, often playing with it for the full two hours, to the exclusion of any other toys (or children). But it was always out of sight out of mind with him – when it was time to go home, a strategically scheduled sippy cup of juice would detach him, and we were on our way.

His capacity for obsessiveness did reveal itself in other ways, however: for weeks on end, he would request a single video, CD, or book, tiring of it only after he had memorized the entire thing. These fixations always worked in my favour, though: a promise of The Cat in the Hat could lure him out of the bath; a reference to "Fred Penner video" could halt an end-of-the-day tantrum when I picked him up at daycare.

Lately, though, Bub’s attention is fixed, with clear-eyed intensity, on this book:

"Are you talking about Neighborhood Animals, Mama?" he will ask engagingly if I happen to mention a bird or a dog.

"No, actually, I wasn’t," I’ll sigh in response. It hardly matters. The book has not left his hands for more than two minutes this week. It goes to daycare with him; it sits by his plate at mealtimes; if it slips under his pillow during the night he awakens screaming. He has, at least, accepted that it cannot come into the bath with him (after an initial knock-down-drag-out tantrum); now he leaps from the tub and hastens to the bedroom to snatch it up the moment his bath is over, rarely lingering now to watch the water drip from his washcloth until his fingers are wrinkly and shriveled.

Neighborhood Animals has become both entertainment and friend, slipping seamlessly into the place occupied until recently by this book:

The day we borrowed Busy Little Mouse from the library, Bub was entranced: he walked down the mall corridor with his nose buried in the book, giving only enough attention to his surroundings to avoid head-on collisions with oncoming shoppers. My heart contracted with love and recognition. "That’s my boy," I thought.

Three renewals later, I was getting desperate. His obsession showed no signs of waning, and before long the book would have to be returned. You might suppose that the storebought version would be greeted with disdain, a devious impostor posing as the real thing. Not so. Bub accepted the substitution wholeheartedly for the 48 hours it took before the appeal of Busy Little Mouse simply wore off. Busy Little Mouse is so last week; it’s all about the Neighborhood Animals now. I should be grateful for small blessings; this, at least, is a book we already own.

His interest in this book is not only affordable, but it also seems to be expanding his imagination. Bub spends his "quiet time" each afternoon inhabiting the animals he sees, crawling like a ladybug or flying like a bird. He leaps at the chance to don his puppy-dog hooded towel and pant like a dog, his tongue lolling out and his paws held up at almost-canine angles. I’m delighted to see him throwing himself into pretend play this way, pleased to see that even the Pie knows better than to touch the Sacred Book.

But I wonder what anxieties and fears drive him to cling to this book so ceaselessly. I see the panic at the corners of his eyes when the book has to be taken away, even momentarily. I watch him going down the slide in the backyard, book clutched firmly in hand, and I sigh, just a little. That’s my boy.


Karen said...

I love kids so much. Thanks for reminding me. Their little joys, needs, wants and secrets are so heartwrenching to me cause I don't always get it, though it's clear it's non-negotiable and beneficial. My oldest spent about a year and a half attached to an Elmo shovel (even sleeping with it). I may never know why, but I had no choice but to mercifully accept this mysterious need. It was part of the package of him at that time. The world was a great big place and he chased after it avidly, Elmo shovel in tow at all points in time. Happy reading to Bub wherever he goes!

Jenifer G. said...

At one time or another both of my girls have had attachments to certain toys, not ever to the degree you describe though. Books especially have this effect, weeks of Goodnight Moon or Five Little Monkeys at bedtime.

I wonder if another way of looking at it is what is it about this item that brings him such comfort? Are his choices random or do they have something in common?

I have had friends whose children latched on to items that were not even child-related. Items such as clothespins, a tube of toothpaste and a small spoon. It is just as you described, with them all the time.

Maybe Bub's attachments will start to show a pattern. At least it is books I could certainly think of worse things. Keep smiling, hopefully more answers will reveal themselves.

Bon said...

wow. you're a beautiful writer, and it's clear there's a lot going on behind the words.

it's only the second time i've been here. i read this, and then the politeness post from a couple of days ago. i find myself wanting to ask about the books, and the attachments, and when they started...and being shackled by my own instinct that that is against "the Code."

but i'll still ask...if you have time to share.

and i'll keep reading.

bubandpie said...

Bon - The funny thing is, I love nosy questions, but I'm usually afraid to ask them myself. We borrowed Busy Little Mouse sometime in December. He was always very fond of the book and resistant to being parted from it, but the attachment didn't go into overdrive until two weeks ago. Initially, it was to his LeapPad, which tends to malfunction and drive him absolutely nuts, so I nipped that in the bud, and he turned his attention to Busy Little Mouse (day and night, nonstop). Then, about a week ago, he switched to Neighborhood Animals. There aren't any obvious events or changes corresponding to these events, so it's a mystery to me.

mamatulip said...

To touch on what another commenter has already mentioned, I wonder what it is about the book that so obviously comforts him? The clearly defined images of animals, the bright colours, objects and shapes that he can recognize? Both of my children are wild for Einstein products -- even Julia, who is past the stated "For Ages 0-36 months".

This post reminds me of something that Julia does when she gets upset -- she bounces. She will go to her bed, or to a softer, plusher, "bouncier" chair, sit on her knees with her hands resting palm-up on her thighs, and bounce up and down. She'll do it for a few minutes or several at a time, and I've always wondered what about bouncing is a coping mechanism for her. Is it the repetitive motion? Is it the movement? What about bouncing brings her such comfort?

I'm not sure I'll ever know the answer, but I do feel a sense of relief when I know she can self-soothe by bouncing.

Beck said...

I need a book with me everywhere for comfort, too, like "Boredom shall not grip me, for I have my book."
I would have said, a few weeks ago, that none of my three have had attachment objects, but suddenly The Baby is all about this plastic Ariel crown and one of our signs that she was feeling better was when she demanded to wear it again.

Becky said...

For a long time I wondered whether or not I ought to be concerned about the devotion Kai can have to a single item. This is apart from the devotion to Puddles, the TY plushy yellow duck that has been his "best friend" since he was 3 months old (at the best of times we had 3 Puddles, and now we have two, although one of them is far more worn and thus much more loved than the newer, softer, sub-par Puddles).

I digress. There have been MANY times over the last 3 years where Kai has latched onto an item, and this attachment generally lasts anywhere from 1-3 weeks. It was usually a small toy - a Thomas Train engine, a little yellow truck, a rubber ball, etc., but right now it's a flashlight. I can't remember it ever being a book, although he has similar "attachment" cycles to books, such that the readers (me, hubby) often tire of the book long before he does.

I've asked a few friends if their kids have had similar attachments to objects, and I don't think anyone could tell me a definitive yes. It's reassuring to hear that there are other kids who show similar behaviours. I often wonder if it may have something to do with us taking away (read: throwing out) his soother when he was only 11 months old. ?

As I was writing the last paragraph, I got a "Mama? Where is Puddles?" Just to emphasize the above.

bubandpie said...

Becky - I've thought the same thing about the soother. Bub gave his up voluntarily at around 27 months or so, and after that his doggy-and-blankie attachment became more pronounced. I recently stopped sending d-and-b to daycare with him for his afternoon nap (since he no longer sleeps - just plays quietly for awhile), so perhaps that has something to do with it: the book can go with him anywhere, unlike d-and-b who are for bedtime only.

Lawyer Mama said...

My 2 1/2 year old does the same thing. For 3 loooooong weeks it was The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Currently, it's The Pokey Little Puppy. In the past, he's dragged around a rock from our garden, an empty insulated coffee mug, and his favorite plastic train. Even though Big H isn't autistis, it's good to know he's not the only one. I figure there are far worse things to be attached to than a book!

Catherine said...

Ah...a boy after my own book-clutching heart. :)

Sandra said...

How I love that it is a BOOK he is so attached too. Perfect.

Every child I know is attached to something at some point. Whether it be a blanket or a soother or a favourite toy. When Little Shot was Bub's age it was measuring spoons ... they went everywhere with him. For a few weeks it was a tampon.

Mimi said...

This is something I didn't know about kids this age. Huh. Filing it all away in the mental ... ur ... file. Over here, it's all about the soother and the cloth diaper still. And for some time, I expect.

slouching mom said...

That he is engaging in pretend play is really hopeful, I think!

bren j. said...

I think an attachment to books must be a good thing. Being able to entertain him or herself seems to be something not every kid is gifted with. My Mom always valued my brother's ability to do that (he went from trucks to books); he could sit by himself for hours. He still can. I, on the other hand, needed a little more....attention.

What excites me about this post though, is that I had no idea you could even find Fred Penner videos! Oh, I LOVED Fred Penner!!! I was, however, consistently frustrated that we never got to see what was on the other end of that log!

rjlight said...

Since I am fairly new to your blog I didn't realize that you were wondering about your son and autism. My nephew is autistic -- highly functioning because they caught it early. He could write to 100 when he was 20 months old. He is now 9 and doing great. My sister made it a point to read all she could about it just like you are doing.

Mary Joan Koch said...

My scientist was unbelievably obsessive when she was four. My husband took her to her Montessori nursery school near the World Trade Center every morning. At noon I had to load the Writer into the backpack and take the subway to pick her up. The scientist insisted on taking the exact same route everyday; we had to walk around street obstancles on the same side each day. We had to use the same subway turnstile; sit in the same car in the same seat opposite the driver. I humored her, since Icould not handle one baby in the backback and one miserable 4 year old. As she turned 5, all the obsessiveness disappeared. But then this is the same kid who, just 3, only whispered for ten days when we went away with her cousins. "When I talk, no one listens. When I whisper, everyone listens. "Maybe she was working a spell to protect NYC:) until she could get home and concoct her endless "potions."

Mary Joan Koch said...

I forgot to mention my oldest, the Adventurer, took her favey, her baby blanket, to almost 70 countries in the world during her 20s. In fact, she wrote an essay about it to apply for grad school in International Affairs. We regard it as her magic carpet. enabling her to be home anywhere in the world.