By DR MELINDA HILDEBRANDT
For Amelia, the hoarding started small. Just a few disparate objects piled on top of her bed, seemingly chosen at random.
Then, the number of objects and their apparent randomness increased while the bed held fast as the breeding ground for greater mountains of ‘stuff’.
These Jenga-like structures comprised hard and plush toys, linen, cushions, whatever Amelia felt had that special quality, that hoard-worthy ‘X factor’. Sometimes these mountains were hidden under blankets, I suppose for safe-keeping. Who the hell knows?
The ‘point’ of this assemblage of things eluded me, but what was not in doubt was their deep importance to Amelia. She had a clear sense of purpose on hoard-making days, even rolled up her sleeves to better get on with the hard yakka this work entailed.
I did not give this new pastime much thought except to peer into her room from time to time and think, “Hmm…weird”. But the eccentricity of growing children takes on many forms and this was no more odd than a couple of other specialities like, say, chewing on a single grape for six hours or pretending to be blind (replete with ‘cane’) for an afternoon. Quirky is as quirky does.
At this early point, when she was about three, these pop-up installations were fairly temporary. Her attachment to them was shallow and fleeting. When the hoard-police (me) came to dismantle her handy-work, there was no problem and no argument. The piles of stuff had served some inner function, but she did not need to cling onto them then.
I’m not so sure when the hoarding ramped up into something bigger and, to me, more alarming. It was before the clinical suggestion of Asperger’s syndrome, but those words were already on my mind. Over summer, the stockpiling got bigger and its intensity ratcheted up about 100 notches.
We visited friends at their holiday house and as usual, there was a backyard gathering centred around outdoor cricket. A handful of kids aged between three and seven fought each other for their turn at the crease, but not Amelia.
She was engrossed in the creation of a makeshift hoard inside a medium-sized, red wheelie bin, the kind used to store (just store) loads of toys. Detached from the activities going on around her, she busied herself with collecting and placing arbitrary objects (not her own) inside the bin.
No amount of persuading could distract her from her core purpose. Other children, attracted by Amelia’s activity, tried to get involved but this caused her stress and she screamed at them to go away.