water obsession

When doctors speak of Corrigan and his behaviors, they often use the term “autistic tendencies.”  While he has been observed and evaluated, and we are often told that they see the same things that concern us in regards to an autism diagnosis, we always end up with “we will evaluate him in another six months.”

One of his “autistic tendencies” is his obsession with water.  He can easily spend an hour in front of a faucet, flinging water into the air with his fingertips and chirping loudly.   He will do the same with a cup of water left on an end table, or the cat’s water dish in the bathroom.  Thankfully, he has not ventured into the potty for his water needs, but Mark always reminds me that just because he hasn’t done something before, doesn’t mean we can rule it out forever.

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He does love to go swimming and for a few years he would stay at the edge of the lake/pool, sitting on his knees, and flinging water into the air just like he does at my kitchen sink, but last summer he realized how much fun it was to actually get out into the water and his water flinging disappeared a few minutes after arrival.

Bath time is one of those obsessive, water flinging times, and the entire bathroom can be spattered in a short period of time.  Thankfully our supply company provides both disposable and washable absorbent pads, so we use those for not only his bedtime needs, but his bath time needs as well.

I watch him closely around water and am really thankful that neither we, nor our neighbors, have swimming pools, I have no doubt that if he were able to escape the house, he would drown if he gained access to something like a pool.  It is terrifying.

This morning I was not watching closely enough, because Connor called for my help ten minutes after I went upstairs, to tell me that Corrigan had removed the lid to his brand new fish tank (Daddy only got it just this last Saturday!) and was elbow-deep in tank water. The couch was drenched and the fish shell-shocked.  This surprised me only because he hadn’t shown much interest in the fish since Mark surprised him with it over the weekend, instead choosing to focus all of his creature love on his ant farm instead.  I let down my guard on the fish tank and the consequences were…wet.

When I observe him during water play, he isn’t interested so much in the depth, he doesn’t usually try and submerge his hands or arms, but instead he likes to gather the water onto his fingertips and then toss it as high into the air as possible. He will fling the droplets while exclaiming happily, and even once in awhile shouting, “whoa!”   I have tried crouching beside him and looking up as he flings the water droplets, to try and view it from the same angle he enjoys it, but I can hardly see the water, so light it is as he throws it up towards the ceiling.

I believe that to Corrigan, those water drops are very visible.  I believe  that he can picture each of those drops almost individually as they go up into the air, and then fall back towards the ground.  I find his water play fascinating and he can no more control his impulses where water is concerned than he can control his chirping when excited.

His bubble play is very similar too.  His joy at watching bubbles is out of this world, and I have noticed that he flaps and chirps the most when I blow them so that dozens of tiny bubbles come from the wand, rather than a few bigger ones.  The tinier the bubbles, the more exciting it is for Corrigan. I have also witnessed him flinging his hands in a sunbeam full of dust particles in the same way as he flings water.  He chirps and jumps and is almost as thrilled with those tiny dust particles as he is with a cat dish full of water.

I can tell him a thousand times, while bathing, to keep the water in the tub.  I have three shower curtains on the rod, to both make them heavier and harder for him to open and to help contain the water flinging, but his need to fling water is dependent on the way the water (or bubbles, or dust) works in collaboration with light, and in a darkened tub, he is not getting that same exciting effect as when he throws open the curtain and can view the drops in the brighter bathroom light.

It is a compulsion, that much I know for sure.  He is not thinking about right or wrong.  He is genuinely remorseful when I scold him (like this afternoon with the fish) and heartbroken that he displeased me, and his reaction to getting in trouble is often so heart breaking that I am positive he will not do something again, just so that he will not see Mommy’s angry face, but then he comes across water and his brain just goes crazy and he cannot remember to NOT touch it.

I’ve noticed also that as he is, perhaps, growing out of a lot of his formerly difficult sensory issues, he will act similarly around anything that is of a finer texture and smaller pieces.  For instance, sand.  Or the tiny rubber mulch pieces that are under the playground equipment. While other children are playing and climbing, Corrigan is often underneath, flinging the tiny blue pieces up and over his head.

I wish I understood the way his brain worked.  I wish I knew for sure that he was absolutely enjoying himself, instead of being driven by some compulsion that he might wish he could escape.  His livid response at being redirected from the sink makes me think that he derives pleasure from it and as long as he isn’t hurting anyone, why not?  However, I just don’t know for sure if allowing him to spend long periods of time indulging his love of water flinging is good for him or not.

4 thoughts on “water obsession

  1. This is such a hard thing to evaluate. L loves water, but not in the same manner as Corrigan. What do his teachers/doctors think about whether the water thing? My gut instinct would be to say that it gives him pleasure to play with the water and to let it be. You can only do your best, and that’s making a decision based on the information you have. Have you read Carly’s voice? She talks about some of these things in it (she happens to be autistic, not that I think Corrigan is).


    • I haven’t read Carly’s voice yet. I do want to read it though. My gut says that Corrigan is on the spectrum. I am not fearful of the diagnosis, or in some sort of denial, and oddly I have had doctors tell me to fight FOR the diagnosis so that he can get more services, but I want the RIGHT diagnosis and with Cor, his “symptoms” are fluid so it makes it a little more difficult. When he was little, and I wrote about it tons on this blog in the past, eye contact was so rare it was heartbreaking. Now he has no eye contact fears, has pretty much outgrown most of his “stims” aside from hand flapping and his really difficult sensory issues seem to be fading as well. The chirping I don’t know about. The water perseveration, I don’t know. I can write about it today and next week he might decide to never do it again. Or grow out of the behavior, I just don’t know how it all works. I guess that as long as he CAN be redirected, the water play is fine and he does allow me to interrupt and show him other ways to play in the sink/tub etc. so I am able to break the “spell.” I guess time will tell.


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  3. My son also loves water he is 24 and has had the same behaviors you talked about whe he was young. His water obsession changed over the years he takes a lot of showers now more just to watch the water at different angles in the light from the window. On the up side he started special Olympics swimming when he was 11 yrs and he swims really well, He has lots of medals and is proud of them. I think for him the water relaxes him and relieves boredom. he was diagnosised with autism at 5 yrs.


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