The criterion within the autism spectrum diagnosis that describes intense interests also describes unusual attachment to objects. In children, this may include the one stuffed animal the girl always needs to have when leaving the house (even through high school) or the bag of different shaped and colored rocks the boy wants in his school bag every day.
In the adult, this characteristic often looks like collecting or hoarding. So what type of collection might fit into the category of unusual?
1. Unusual Items
For some, the items are unusual, in that many people wouldn't find them particularly interesting, meaningful, or rare. Some individuals on the spectrum collect scraps of paper, receipts, pop tabs, or small metal objects. Even though the objects aren't meaningful or needed, and even when they create a hazard in the home, the individual becomes very agitated when asked to part with them.
2. Unusual Strength of Attachment
For some ASD individuals, the items themselves are not uncommon for a collection, but the strength of the attachment is striking. One individual may say that parting with even one of the objects would feel like "a death in the family." And indeed, he may seem more attached to the objects that he has than to the people in his life. Another individual may begin crying at the thought of putting some of her collection in a different room (e.g., keep some in the basement because she can't use her bedroom without clearing a portion of the items out). Another person may sleep on top of all his important possessions every night because he wants to touch them and keep them safe.
3. Unusual Amount of Objects
Some autistic individuals have more than one home because they need a space for all the belongings they won't part with. For example, a couple that marries may keep both of their individual houses -- one to live in and one to keep belongings in. Another may spend money on collection items even when the roof is leaking or they have no food.
Awareness of the ways in which autistic characteristics may manifest will help with correct assessment and diagnosis.