An “Interest”ing Twist

Interests:  Up, Down, All Around.

Alex, my fifth child and fourth son, was diagnosed with autism in February, 1997, at just over two years old. At twelve years old today, he would probably be considered high functioning autism. Although it is said that a person with autism has an “encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus”, I have found that with a little shaping through expansion, it can also be a catalyst for engagement in a full life. One of Alex’s long-standing interests is ceiling fans, and I would like to share some glimpses into how this interest has enhanced his life.

“May I look at the house plan books?”

“Of course!”  I set Alex up in front of the small book and magazine rack at our local supermarket as I continue grocery shopping. Each aisle, I check back with him to see if he has found “the one”.

About three aisles down now, I hear a familiar voice, “Mom, Mom, where are you?”

I peek around an aisle and reply, “Here I am.”  I see Alex clutching a magazine to his chest while he skips over to where I am.

“Can we buy it?” he asks hopefully.

“We’ll have to see at the checkout.”

He tags along beside me with his magazine flopped open. Whenever I stop to tarry at a location, Alex plops down on the floor to be more comfortable. He gets up and continues once I turn the corner. My job is to direct him back to the cart if he wanders too far from it lest he bump into something or someone as he flips the pages. Finally, it is checkout time. It appears the budget will allow for a house plan book this trip.

“Well, can you buy me this house plan book?”

I see the checkout counter woman’s eyebrows rise in surprise, wondering if she heard correctly. Sometimes it is fun to amaze them, so I decide to create this conversation piece.

“Are you sure?  How about some candy instead?”

“No, I want this book.  It’s a good one, Mom.  See?” Alex eagerly plops down, while I begin to unload the cart, and proceeds to show me the periodic glossy photo that shows a ceiling fan decorating a featured room. Further, this one has the house plans that depict ceiling fan placements in appropriate and typical rooms within the actual black and white plan dimensions.

I check back to see the reaction of the clerk, and she is slightly shaking her head in disbelief that a 7-year-old would choose a house plan book over candy.

“How many times do you see a child choose a book over candy, huh?” I query.

“He really likes those books, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah. We homeschool and most of my children would choose a book over candy. Alex has a whole collection of house plan books at home because he loves ceiling fans.”

Family Relationships.
I hear Alex’s loud, but rhythmic humming sound with periodic giggling emanating from his bedroom that he shares with his brother, Eli.

“Hey, what’s going on in here?” I happily ask as I open the door. I see the boys’ blankets tucked into the top bunk and draping softly as it surrounds the bottom bunk. There is a flashlight moving inside from whence the humming stems. Strewn on the floor is Eli’s large collection of Lego’s with Eli plopped in the middle, head bent over, periodically sifting through the piles for the next piece, as he concentrates on some project.

Alex peeks out of the blankets. “Come see what Eli made me!” he says excitedly, yet quickly reverts to his hum and finger rubbing.

I bend over to look as he directs the beam of light to the “ceiling” of his “house,” which is the wood pallet of the top bunk. Taped meticulously throughout are Lego ceiling fans that Eli has gifted Alex for his pleasure. They are both immersed in what they love, intertwined as brothers through their momentarily complimentary interests.

“Does she have ceiling fans in her house?” Alex asks me of a new caseworker, who is visiting our house for the first time.

“Why don’t you ask her?” I prod.

“But I’m shy,” whispers Alex as he glances at the caseworker.

“I’ll be right here.  You can do it,” I insist gently.

Alex haltingly looks at the caseworker, and breathily says quickly, “Do you have any ceiling fans in your house?”

“Well, let’s see,” the caseworker contemplates. “I think I have three ceiling fans.”

Alex’s eyes light up and now he continues the conversation boldly, without any reservations. “What rooms are they in?”

The litany of questions continue in the general format as Alex gathers the first pieces of critical information to take a person from stranger to acquaintance to friend. Age, occupation, location of residence, children . . . boring. Details of ceiling fans such as number of blades, color of blades and motor, light options, length of down pipe, room locations . . . fascinating . . . to Alex.

“Whatcha doin, Alex?” I ask as I look over his shoulder as he concentrates at the monitor of our computer.

“I’m going to look at ceiling fans.  Adrienne showed me how.  Watch me, Mom.  It’s really cool.”

I do watch as my just turned 9 year old hunts and pecks for the words “ceiling” and “fans” into our server’s search engine and hits enter.  A number of options pop up.  I’m amazed at the Internet site choices just on ceiling fans.  There are installation videos . . . always great to get visuals and movement, which is the best part about ceiling fans.  There are product sites with many interesting and unique ceiling fans to choose from.  Alex zeroes in on his favorite site,

“Look, Mom, I can build my own!”  Sure enough. There are different choices of motors, blades, lights, downspouts, etc., to explore in any type of combination.

“What kind do you want, Mom?”  I give him my choices, as he asks me to explain why I would like each item.

Once the fan is completed, I muse, “Hhhmmm. I think that would be a good one for the family room.”

“I’ll show you my favorite.”  And he proceeds to assemble his preferred choices.
Having peaked his curiosity, he probes me, “Where do you think my fan should go?”

“Hhhhmmm.  I don’t know.  What do you think?”

“I think it should go in the foyer.”  I laugh to myself because I know how exciting it is for him to contemplate less typical locations for fans. Unique locations for my unique son.  We have discussed the possibility that when we move again, maybe within the next year, that we will shop for unique fans and put them in every room and build themes around the ceiling fan. He is so excited about that future project.

He proceeds to print out his favorite ceiling fan creation onto stiff paper. Although scissoring skills are not high on Alex’s priority list, he painstakingly cuts out the fan in order to enhance the reality of it so he can tape it alongside his growing collection of these prints on the walls and ceiling of his bedroom.

Example to Others.
What have I learned from Alex’s interest?  I notice the little things more now.  As an example, Alex visited a school at ten years old.  Naturally, the first question he asked the teacher who was conducting the tour of the school was if the school had any ceiling fans.  She thought for a moment and said, “No, we don’t have any ceiling fans at school.”

As we approached the cafeteria during the tour, Alex’s eyes lit up and declared, “Ceiling fans!”
Sure enough, there were six ceiling fans scattered throughout the cafeteria. He was in hog heaven. As Alex was granted permission to turn the fans off and on, while some of the regular students who were in the cafeteria at the time looked on in surprise and envy, the teacher embarrassingly commented, “I can’t believe after working here seven years and visiting the cafeteria every day that I didn’t realize it had ceiling fans in it.”  A couple other school personnel who were with the group consoled her as they admitted that they hadn’t realized either.

From then on during the tour, before entering any room, I smiled to witness the entire group collectively look up first thing to see if there were any ceiling fans. Alex helped every person in that group realize that what is important to notice is all in the eye of the beholder based on each person’s unique perspective and perceptions.

It’s almost 12:00 midnight and I hear shuffling around in the hallway at the toolbox near my bedroom.  It’s Alex, newly turned 12 years old.

“Alex?  Isn’t it time for bed?” I encourage.

“I just want to change out the old multi-colored ceiling fan bracket for the new one,” he explains.
“Can’t you do it tomorrow?”

“No!   It won’t take long,” insists Alex.

“Can’t the same bracket that’s there be used for the new ceiling fan?” I probe.

“Yes, but the new one’s white, and I want the white one now. Can you help me? The screw is stuck tight.”

I consider rejecting assistance, but know that once he has something in his mind to do, he’s going to do it.

“Alright, I’ll try.”

We proceed down to his room with the correct tools. I lie on his bottom bunk bed and begin to try to loosen the problematic screw that is attached to one of the top bunk support rails. A few Christmases ago, with the only thing on Alex’s list being a multi-colored ceiling fan, we got the great idea as an added surprise to attach it to one of these supports so that he could have a “ceiling fan in his room” since one in the actual ceiling was not possible due to it being a drop ceiling. He was thrilled and was more than happy to make room for “his fan” (minus the electricity) as he slept. Since then, he has earned enough money to buy seven others that he learned to assemble himself which he trades out to be displayed in his bed. He had recently bought a new type of multi-colored bladed fan which he was currently intent upon installing.

After loosening the screw, Alex proceeds to disassemble the old bracket and replace it with the new one in preparation for this latest fan that he would finish assembling in the morning. I see the power drill with bits awaiting fast installation of screws as well as various tools and parts in the ready, all eagerly mastered in response to his ceiling fan interest.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Don’t look yet!  How many ceiling fans do you have? Where? How many blades? What color? How long is the downspout? What color is the motor? Are the blades on top or below the motor? Okay, now go look. Enjoy a new detail of your life.

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