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Autism is fascinating. Kids with autism often show inappropriate play with toys and obsessions with certain things. For the last few years, Sam’s obsession has been cars. That is, Disney’s Pixar Cars. He didn’t zoom them about, or drive them around. He lined them up and used them to script the movie – verbatim. That’s not completely uncommon for kids to imitate the movie, but his cars were only allowed to “play” however they were depicted in the movie, and in no other fashion. Since Cars 2 came out, he decided that the first Cars movie was “boring” and refused to play with those cars anymore. Of course, he has now received all the Cars 2 characters for his birthday and Christmas in the last year, so he has plenty to play with.

Just like most other kids, the toy of the year passes with each year, or each new movie, and then they get obsessed with the next big thing. Sam seems to have continued to persist in his obsession with Cars 2, but now he has changed directions a bit. It’s a bit of a relief from all the Cars talk, but the obsession itself is just as strong as it was with Cars. The new obsession?

Flags. Flags from around the world. If you haven’t seen Cars 2, first of all, you should. It’s an excellent movie and very fun to watch with your kids. Secondly, the plot revolves around this huge World Cup race that takes place in various countries. Third, a whole array of new race cars are introduced in the movie, one for each country represented with the flag of that country on the car. At first, Sam was just bent on collecting each and every car shown in the movie, including an entire set of new Cars 1 cars with the Cars 2 logo on them (boy does Disney have the market cornered on this one!) that apparently makes them not as boring as the “regular” Cars 1 cars. That obsession gave way to obsessing over the detail on each car – their country’s flag.

So… he’s now into flags. He checks out books from his school’s library on flags from around the world. He draws flags on paper, on his tablet, and has asked us to print out flags (so they’re “perfect”) to hang in his room. Kids with autism are pretty dang smart, and my Sam-bot, as I like to call him, is no exception. He has this incredible and fascinating capability of memorizing every design of every flag of every country. He knows what order the white, green and red go in on the Italy flag. He insists that only girls live in Brazil because there are “pretty white stars” on the flag, and if it’s a pretty flag, and we only use the word “pretty” for girls, that must mean that only girls live there. (Also, our pastor has a foreign exchange student, Laura, living with their family for several months who is from Brazil, so this only solidifies his theory.)

He asked if our town, Poolesville, has a flag, to which I said no. But apparently, we do. I had no idea. Did you know McDonald’s had a flag? I thought they just had golden arches, but they apparently also have a flag. He has an app on his tablet of country flags (do you KNOW how many countries there are?!) and he is learning all of them on his own. He is fascinated with flags, and I am fascinated by his fascination and his ability to learn it all! And since he knows so much about it, guess what? So do I! Ah, the things I never thought I’d need to know but am taught by my 6 year old son.

Temple Grandin, perhaps the most famous autistic person of our time, had certain obsessions with animals when she was little that she turned into a functional career as an adult. She created the squeeze box that is now used in slaughtering cattle. It calms the animal so it does not panic just before it dies and becomes meat for us to eat. She has an incredible compassion for animals that she was able to use, along with her own innate need to be comforted by being held tightly in a swing, to do something great in the world.

I am left alone with my thoughts… what will Sam accomplish in his life that Disney’s Cars and flags from around the world might possibly contribute to one day? You just never know what seemingly odd things that captivate our children now might one day captivate the world and better improve our own lives. Oh, and I understand there is a Cars 3 coming out – moving from ground vehicles to AIR. Deep breaths.

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