25: Obsession

25: Obsession

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum


It’s hard for me to put into words why I like the beach so much. Everything about it is renewing for me, almost like therapy.

~Amy Dykens

It’s my favorite moment of the year, early each Father’s Day. I enter our son Matthew’s room to help him out of bed and to get him dressed. And then it is my joy to say, “Matthew, guess where we’re going today!”

He knows what’s coming next. A huge smile breaks on his face. His steel blue eyes twinkle and brighten. His hands start flapping. His legs begin twitching. . . . “To the beach!”

It is a wonderful Father’s Day gift to myself.

His loud squeals pierce the room, alternately hurting my ears and filling me with enchantment. His entire body quivers, coiling with elation and anticipation. He claps his hands eagerly, unable to contain his absolute joy and delight. He can’t focus on anything else now. He can neither eat nor drink. He’s too excited, absolutely thrilled. Our annual weeklong trip to the beach is finally here. After a year of not so patiently waiting, it’s time to go back again!

Matthew is obsessed with the beach — absolutely fixated on going there, on being there, on anticipating being there. He has other obsessions too. But the beach is his most constant and intense. He cannot speak. But he can clearly communicate, strongly and well, his desires about the beach. When we so often struggle to understand what he may want or need, there is no question about his feelings on that place. Because every day of the year, he indicates that he wants to go to the beach — by pointing at the photos of him there that can be found all around our house. There are photos of past vacations — of him with his mother, of him with me, of him with his brothers, of him with his grandparents, and of him alone. In each one Matthew’s joy is unmistakable — in his body language, in his broad, squinty-eyed grin. His excitement is unambiguous.

When it comes to the possibility of going to the beach, Matthew is eternally optimistic, perpetually hopeful, and infinitely expectant. He is relentless and unyielding. His badgering is constant, and it can wear pretty thin some days. I’ll be honest about that. His insistence can be frustrating and it can fray our nerves.

He packs constantly. There are a lot of things he does not understand, a lot that he appears not to grasp. But he absolutely knows what he believes he needs for the beach. He is obsessed about gathering tubes of sunscreen, swimsuits and T-shirts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, a towel, cups of pudding and a water bottle, and the Pull-Ups he wears because of his incontinence. If he can drag a beach umbrella up from the basement, he will insist on that being included too. He presents them to us and won’t rest until as many of those necessities as possible are stuffed into a bag or backpack and set by the front door. Some days we pack those bags over and over again. Most days we are forever tripping over the bags and “necessities” by the door.

Matthew also wears a swimsuit and T-shirt twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. No matter how hot or cold it is. No matter where he goes or what the occasion he is wearing a swimsuit. He wore one to both his older brothers’ weddings, under his suit and tie, and to his high school graduation ceremony, under his gown. He wears one to church each Sunday, to his activities program each day and to bed each night. He has two dozen of them, in the bright, patterned colors he loves. There are extra swimsuits and T-shirts stowed in each of our cars and in the backpack he takes to his program each day. He has one packed in a bag that hangs on the back of the transport chair he uses when he is out in public. The red ones are his favorites. His Spider-Man suits come next in the pecking order. Some of his swimsuits are threadbare and worn through, patched again and again to make them wearable as long as possible. When it’s warm outside, a suit and T-shirt will be all he wears wherever he goes. But when it’s cold, they are always on underneath another, warmer shirt and a pair of long pants. When he had surgery and an eight-day hospital stay this past summer he wore them instead of the standard-issue hospital gown.

Matthew is twenty-four years old, long past the age when wearing a swimsuit and T-shirt everywhere he goes and for everything he does is normally cute or acceptable. But in his childlike innocence, in his autism, they are simply part of who he is. His obsession is his joy. When he is on the beach, sitting on a low chair at the water’s edge, he is as calm and as contented as he can possibly be. Matthew rarely sits still — ever. He is always in motion, pulsing with frenetic energy, even in bed, even through the night. But when he is at the beach, with the waves washing up to his feet, sometimes washing up over him, occasionally crashing into him and knocking him and his chair over as he howls with laughter and glee, he is tranquil, serene, supremely contented — at peace. The packing has stopped. The obsession has paid off. He is finally at the beach.

And when he is, for at least this one week out of the year, his mother and I can find tranquility, serenity, contentment — blessed peace — as well.

~Michael D. Gingerich

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