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Free ebooks ==> Justin 35 a nuisance, especially because it is pursued with such intensity that it severely hampers family life. Parents cannot wait for hours while the child opens and closes the garage doors with the electric openers. I knew one couple who was, to say the least, annoyed when an enormous heating bill arrived in the mail, thanks to their son, who loved the sound of the furnace so much that he played with the setting on the thermostat. He made the furnace come on at regular and frequent intervals, even in the heat of summer, and each time it did, the sounds brought him great pleasure and excitement. But as with Stephen, sometimes the interests can seem quite charming, and in those circumstances parents may take great pleasure in their child’s preoccupations. I vividly remember little Chris, although I saw him only once since he lived far away. He was a lovely boy with short dark hair and big green eyes. The family lived out in the country by the banks of a small river. Along the river were tall aspen trees that could be seen from the backyard of the house. Chris became very excited whenever he watched the wind blow through the trees. The branches swayed, the leaves rustled and shimmered in the sunlight. Chris would stand there in his backyard, flap his arms, and make humming sounds. He loved to watch the trees move in the wind. Then he and his mother would hold hands and dance, because, as Chris said, “the trees are dancing.” Whether or not these eccentric interests and preoccupations should be eliminated is a common question and one without a definite answer. To eliminate them entirely may not be possible or even desirable as they represent true play activities, and play is essential to the development of communication and social skills, especially if the play can be extended to include other children. Sometimes, however, these interests and preoccupations are experienced as intrusive and troublesome by the child, almost like the obsessions seen in obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). When that occurs, treatment with medication is certainly indicated. There is good evidence that the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are effective for the rituals and obsessions in OCD and more generally for symptoms of anxiety in children with autism and AS. When the interest is troublesome or intrusive, it is important to limit the pursuit of that interest to a time and place that does not interfere too much with the family or other people. Often the activity can be limited to the child’s bedroom or else pursued away from people outside the family. This can be done by setting aside a certain time each day when the child is allowed to pursue his interests without interference

36 A MIND APART from others. It’s also helpful to try to broaden the interests to be more developmentally appropriate or to include other people. Children initially fascinated with computers can learn graphics or programming. They can play computer games with their siblings or with other children with ASD. These modifications can be accomplished using gentle persuasion, rewards of some kind, or even medication. The child who was preoccupied with car exhaust systems had to be supervised closely when out in the community and prevented from going to parking lots or playing in the streets. Instead, he was encouraged to draw exhaust pipes and to plaster his walls with his drawings. Eventually these strategies led to a decrease in his interests in the real thing, and he turned his attention to antique cars in general. These interests and preoccupations may be on a continuum with the amazing skills shown by people known as savants. Attention to perceptual detail can be linked to remarkable memory abilities or the capacity to develop complex algorithms to solve computational problems, like knowing what day of the week someone’s birthday will fall on far into the future. Most savants have autism, but some do not. Savants tend to be quite impaired intellectually, and so the ability to perform complex cognitive tasks that are beyond the capacity of most of us is all the more remarkable. True savants are, in fact, quite rare but have caught the public imagination for years. In the last century, Dr. Alfred Tredgold wrote of the Genius of Earlswood who could draw meticulous pictures of naval ships and insisted that he was an admiral, even though he lived in an asylum and had never been to sea. He was apparently quite a celebrity in Victorian England. There are lovely pictures of him in a naval uniform standing in front of one of the model schooners he had built. Other well-known savants in our own time have demonstrated astonishing artistic ability. Stephen Wiltshire is a person with autism in England who makes beautiful drawings of buildings, streetscapes, and cars. He has published several books, has sold many drawings, and more recently has attended art school, where his talent continues to develop even though on conventional measures of intelligence and language he is quite delayed. But he is able to use his attention to visual detail as a means of recapturing moments of perception as they happen in everyday life. Hikari Oe is the son of Kenzaburo Oe, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1994. Hikari was born with a malformation of the brain but survived after a long and difficult operation. In addition to seizures and visual problems, he has autism and a prodigious memory for sounds and music. He was always fascinated with

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