I remember years ago sitting in the waiting area of our Doctors office. Another parent who was also waiting saw my son holding some Pokemon cards and made a comment about how her son also liked Pokemon and collected the cards as well. At that time I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy because unlike my son’s obsession I was pretty sure her son didn’t have over 2000 cards, begged for more on a daily basis, and insist on having everything and anything that had to do with Pokemon – and if not presented with such, would have extreme meltdowns or fits of anger and violence. Unfortunately my son’s obsessions didn’t just end with Pokemon he was also a “collector” collecting EVERYTHING from boxes, wrappers, half eaten food, dirt, stones, sticks, newspapers, it just never seemed to end.
I am sure most of you have heard of, or have even watched, the Reality show “Buried Alive.” about people who hoard, well by the time my son was 8 he was a seasoned hoarder that had spiraled out of control. However, unlike the majority of people you see on the show or hear about, my son was only a child, his hoarding was not driven by OCD, and any types of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) had absolutely no effect.
Since the time my son was about 18 months he started collecting things like vacuum parts, batteries and tools, by the time he was 3 knew everything and anything about vacuums and collected any flyers that had a picture or advertisement about vacuums. He insisted on keeping everything from toy boxes, wrapping paper that came off his presents, wrappers from any food he ate, and even napkins, paper plates, or cups that he or anyone in our family used. An incident that took place at my newphew’s party one year will forever be embedded in my mind.
The party was over and I began helping my sister in law clean up. There were paper plates left on the table along with cups, and napkins. I threw them out as there were no children still eating – why wouldn’t I think it was all garbage? Well apparently I was wrong. As soon as my son realized what had happened he started to panic and have a complete meltdown – not your everyday kind of meltdown either. He was crying, screaming at me about why I had thrown his and his siblings stuff out begging me to get it back. I tried explaining to him that it was garbage but he wouldn’t listen he just kept crying and begging me to get it back. You really had to be there to appreciate the total effect. It was heartbreaking as he looked to be so tortured. I stood my ground and told him it was garbage. As soon as I went to collect the other children he went to the garbage and started to take out everything I had thrown out and put it in his bag that he had brought with him. The other bag held his stuffies that he wouldn’t leave home without along with a toy box and wrapping paper.
It was crazy and I had no idea on how to deal with it. Once when he was about eight I found an old piece of pizza in his back pack. It was pizza he had got one day in school on pizza day. It was so moldy I thought I would vomit. When I confronted him about it he calmly told to please put it back in his school bag. I told him no it was garbage and really needed to be thrown out. Well that did it! He freaked and started screaming and crying and telling me it was his and he could keep it if he wanted. I stood my ground explaining that he could get sick. As I walked over to the trash can he kept trying to grab it from me and then once again dug into the garbage to retrieve it. I took it back and threw it out again which prompted him to start hitting at me and crying. Again I threw it back out and then took the bag out of the garbage can, tied it up and went outside to the garage. Suddenly he shoved me so hard pushing me against the garage door and pretty well had me pinned against it. I didn’t realize that a child of his age and size could be so strong. He had a vacant look in his eyes and he started screaming that if he didn’t get it back he would die. The pain in his eyes was real and finally I told him that I wasn’t going to actually throw it out but just store it in the garage away from everyone so no one would get sick. After about ten minutes he calmed down after giving my word that I wouldn’t really throw it out. He then went into the house acting as though nothing had happened. He felt safe at that point I suppose.
After the pizza episode, I sent an email to the chief of psychiatry at Sick Kids Hospital and explained how my son had been seen by other psychologists and psychiatrists but they seemed to have no answers and although they realized something was not right they couldn’t understand what was going on. I begged him to see him. I received an email back within a day with an appointment.
This psychiatrist was great and saw my son several times. However although they confirmed his diagnosis of aspergers they felt his hoarding was an atypical symptom of his aspergers relating to the obsessions that unfortunately are a part of any child’s life who is affected by an ASD. They also determined that when he hoarded things, no matter what it was, he then felt that it was truly apart of himself himself and so when anyone attempted to get rid of the objects he felt parts of him body were being ripped away from him – almost as though he was losing his limbs or bones etc….
This was some heavy stuff and unfortunately they felt at that point there was nothing they could do because it wasn’t just a simple case – in fact it was very complex and they really hadn’t ever come across anything like it. It was exciting for them to see such a case presented to them, but heartbreaking for me.
5 years later we are still dealing with his many complex issues but at least the hoarding has diminished somewhat – not entirely, but it is much better and I a have strategies that help me and him cope better.
So next time you hear of someone who is a hoarder please don’t be to quick to judge because unknown to you, simply an outsider looking in, there is probably a whole lot more going on than you actually realize.
Have you ever known anyone who is a hoarder? What was your initial reaction?
Until next time,