Tate’s got some special interests. Or, well, fixations, really. One of his main “interests” is to watch things spin. In fact, he often watches spinning objects as a form of regulation. The spinning of a fan, or a stick, or a toy, or a wheel helps him calm down. I think some of it is sensory…and some of it is a true, unadulterated fixation on the “how” behind the action. How does it do that?! As Tate gets absorbed in his fixation, he calms down. He stops having a “flight or fight” reaction to the stimuli around him. His body loosens, relaxes. He doesn’t need to bang or crash into walls, tables, or climb on top of me or Hubz because he is regulating himself again.
After a while of staring into the fan, Tate can carry on a conversation. He often is able to produce spontaneous speech. He’ll ask a question. Or make a statement–all without prompting. To a lesser extent, we see regulation and improved communication when he is able to spin a toy or a stick in his hand. By stick, I mean any object that is straight. Sticks include, but are not limited to actual tree branches, markers, pencils, pens, straws, pinwheel handles, glowsticks, wands, scepters, hangers, Swiffer stick, etc. One time he used the leg from one of Jake’s action figures as a “stick”. If he’s feeling a need to stim, he will make it work.
About a year ago, we realized that Tate would look for ceiling fans whenever we were at restaurants. The noisier the restaurant, the more urgent his need to find a fan. It is a shame that kid-friendly restaurants are usually a full-on assault to a child with sensory issues. They are loud. They are echo-y. They are chaotic. They are unpredictable–too many little kids running around, laughing, screeching, whining. We can blend in a little bit more in a “family” restaurant, but often, Tate starts to struggle with dysregulation. On the occasions where the restaurant had ceiling fans (I’m looking at you, Red Robin), Tate was able to order his grilled cheese and french fries, drink a little lemonade, and join in a somewhat typical family outing.
Of course, the need for looking for a ceiling fan did us no favors at other family-friendly locales like California Pizza Kitchen. We hadn’t been to CPK in a year or so, but we decided to try it again about a month ago. Tate did fine until we got into our booth, and then the noise started to get to him. The particular location we chose is cavernous, and it is echo-y. I have a hard time focusing on a conversation in there, and I can only imagine how difficult it is for a child with auditory sensitivity, among other sensory issues. He started to look for fans. There were none inside. He noticed that the outdoor dining area had some fans. Problem?! We live in the Midwest. When it is 40-some degrees, people do not want to eat outside. There was no way those fans were going to be functioning during our visit in October.
Tate is a persistent fellow. He asked–a handful of times–if he could see the “fast fan”. We said no. I tried explaining the rationale behind it. Then I realized, there is no way to explain this rationally to a 6-year-old who is fixated on the spinning blades of a fan for regulation purposes. I sighed, a bit too loudly. Hubz nodded towards my phone. “Find a Youtube video of a fan.” Duh! Of course!! I quickly typed in “spinning ceiling fans” for Tate. I figured there’d be a tutorial on installation, or maybe one of those “oh-my-God-kids-will-try-anything-stupid” videos where someone goes flying off the fan and ends up in the ER. But no. The first 15 videos were just spinning ceiling fans. Some were set to music. Some were narrated.
Oh.My.God. Tate had found “his” people. Somewhere out there, individuals who are just as interested in fans have taken video and posted it on the interwebz. Tate found his nirvana. The “spinning ceiling fan” section of Youtube. He started watching the video while we sat in the restaurant. He quietly ate his dinner, mesmerized by his new-found love–spinning ceiling fans.
Since that fateful day, Tate has revisited his Youtube sensation–many times over. He has a few favorites. There’s one set to some meditation music. Another is some dude’s garage–replete with 30 spinning fans. Yes, 30. Another is of a ceiling fan spinning to the beat of a new-age song. He sits, mesmerized. It is calming for him. He often visits his fan “channel” while he is transitioning into the home routine at night…or into the morning routine after waking up in the morning. It keeps him relatively regulated, so we are allowing it. So far, it isn’t interfering with any productive activities, so why not? Everyone needs their down time.
Tate has, in fact, become so enthralled with his fans, that he can “read” the phrase, “spinning ceiling fans” on our tablet. And on my phone. He is a smart one, that Tater-tot. At this point, I’m just glad that he found something soothing…and something that makes him happy. And, well, something that he is interested in enough to want to share joint attention. Oh yes…he wants to show Hubz and me..and sometimes even Jake…his fans on the tablet. I love it.
Who knows, some day, Tate’s special interest may just help him invent some new fan technology…or inspire him to put up a Youtube video of the multitude of simultaneously spinning fans in his garage. As long as he’s happy…I’m ok with it.