HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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Dealing with Obsessions and Compulsive Behaviors in Aspergers Children

"My 5-year-old is obsessed with Legos. In fact, his entire bedroom looks like a Lego museum. People who go into his room are rather impressed with the massive structures he has created. But my question is, should I allow him to continue to collect these pieces? It is starting to become a bit overwhelming."

Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism often must deal with obsessions and compulsive behavior. They may become fixated on a narrow subject, such as the weather, compulsive neatness, baseball statistics or other narrow interest. In fact, this is often a hallmark sign of Aspergers.

While some of the core issues with Aspergers can’t be cured, there are ways a family can cope with such issues and learn to overcome some of them. For example, Aspergers kids can be explicitly taught better ways of communication with others which will lessen their focus on obsession. Certain types of cognitive behavioral therapy can help as well. Finally, medications that control obsessive behavior can be tried to see if some of the obsessiveness reduces.

Families must, to some extent, learn to cope with compulsive behaviors on the part of their Aspergers child. It helps to learn as much as you can about the syndrome and its nuances. Learn as much about your child as you can, and learn which things trigger compulsive behavior so they can be avoided. 

Some compulsive behavior is completely benign and is easily tolerated by everyone involved. As parents, you need to decide which kinds of behaviors should be just tolerated and which need intervention.

Allow others, like therapists, teachers and doctors to help your child with some of his behaviors. As a parent, you can be expected to do only so much, and others may have to be involved in helping you help your child.

In some cases, it helps to turn your child’s obsession into a passion that can be integrated into his own extracurricular or school activities. A consuming interest in a given subject can help connect your child to schoolwork or social activities, depending on the obsession and the behavior. Only you, and perhaps your child’s doctors and teachers, can decide whether or not it’s appropriate to allow the child to fixate on a particular subject. 

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook 


COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said... Absolutely yes. its great for hand and eye coordination. my son is slmost 21 and i still give him one every Christmas.
•    Anonymous said... And what a wonderful obsession it is!!! We have so many Legos/Bionicles if I ever sold them I think I would be rich!!! My boys are hitting the teen years and still get them out. My youngest daughter plays as well. I found these great storage bags called Swoop that spread out on the floor like a mat and then when your done you can tie it up and put them away!! Although not for masterpieces in progress!!
•    Anonymous said... Aspie's like to collect things. Let him display them. It's a great sense of accomplishment for him. I bet he gets excited when people compliment him on them! My 11 yr old Aspie still builds with them. He has a huge container full of pieces, but has built so many intricate ones that they are displayed on shelves in his room. Some have spilled over into my living room, so I just found more space in his room for them. I wish he was able to have a playroom where he could keep them. My son's main restricted interest is video games, so I love when he puts down the controller in favor of legos. Debi Conn is right.... eventually another restricted interest will take its place.
•    Anonymous said... Heh. My 7yo Aspie son's room in the same. He likes to pull them apart after a while and then rebuild new structures not ever thought of when the kits were put together. If it's not detrimental to his everyday functioning, where's the problem? Lego is EXCELLENT for developing fine motor control and learning important concepts: engineering/design principals, physics, creativity, planning. It's also something that they have total control over, which is important for all kids but especially kids on the spectrum.
•    Anonymous said... I don't know what the experts say, but we allow our daughter to have her "obsessions." For 2 years it was 100% Wonder Pets. Then for a year it was stickers. Now for the past year it's been Beanie Boos - her room is devoted. I don't see harm in it, as it brings her comfort when otherwise her sensory issues cause her grief.
•    Anonymous said... I say YES! My 13 year old w/ Aspergers LOVES his! It's one of the few things he enjoys and he takes great pride in! He's been building since around 7 he loves kinects and bionicles he buys a new one with his own $ every chance he gets... I would encourage him to continue.. Be excited when he builds something new.... We take pictures for a "portfolio" so he can take down certain pieces to build a newer or better version... It's a great outlet for them... Be proud momma
•    Anonymous said... I would say yes as well. My 5 year old is obsessed with zoo's and animals. I love it when he takes me on a zoo tour after he has spent an hour setting up his room. He also likes video games, and they could become an obsession if I don't drastically reduce the amount of time he is allowed on it and make video games a reward. So, it is good your son is using his imagination and skills with Legos verses spending hours on video games. I think we need to love and embrace the beautiful aspects of AS is our children.
•    Anonymous said... I would say, yes keep letting him collect. We started my son at age 4 and he has a 10 gal green rubber made tub full to the top. He still is building. I feel to fuels their creativity.
•    Anonymous said... IF that's what works...go with it. ~an aspie mommy
•    Anonymous said... If you have limited funds, you can create a photo collection of your child's masterpieces. It's a way to preserve them so your child will be willing to re-use the lego pieces.
•    Anonymous said... Just a thought... I let my son continue with whatever he is "in to" at the time but try to introduce related tangents that he might like. I do this to broaden his world in a comfortable way for him. If your child loves legos and building things with them you could try to introduce the process of sketching out his building plans. That could lead into other types of drawing or art projects. The key is to help them grow and broaden their interests without taking away what they enjoy. Does that make sense? It has worked really well for us.
•    Anonymous said... Legos never lose value so if he ever did move on you could sell them but Lego has a large adult following and people collect them my son has massive amounts as well we have 3 walls of bins sorted by color & body bins he enjoys sorting as much as building. My only rule is they have to stay out of the common areas of the house his room and basement I don't care about.
•    Anonymous said... let him be and God willing it's your biggest worry in his life
•    Anonymous said... Most definitely YES! This is one of the best activities to use when they are trying to play with other kids. Every kid likes Legos! It helps to bridge that "what do you want to do" gap!
•    Anonymous said... My 13 yr old has a room totally filled with Lego. His clothes and cupboard draws are stacked with amazing structures. He play occasionally now when stressed or really bored. But he still won't let go it. He puts his clothes in the bedside table draw. And wk t get new clothes as the Lego is more important.
•    Anonymous said... My 9 year old also has a Lego thing. And once he puts them together they stay together. His room is VERY overwhelming to me, but I believe he is seeking visual input. It is a great side of creativity as well. I say let him keep them.
•    Anonymous said... my son's current obession is legos and also trains. he goes back and forth between them, what we do is we let him play with them and then make him back off for a day or 2 to givem them a break, if not then he gets overwhelmed and frustrated because he cant think of what to build with them
•    Anonymous said... Our 11 yr old daughters obsession is Harry potter- we allow it all but work with her on socially acceptable levels around peers or family, for example- you can't wear the griffendor robe to school or not monopolizing the conversation about Harry. It's tough to teach balance but every kid has interests- it would be unfair to deny an interest to any child- just teach that there are social rules around it.
•    Anonymous said... Our son is 8yo and is an Aspie. He loves building with his lego but then shows little imagination as far as playing. So mostly his creations stay on his lego table once completed. This is one area we need to work on with him - imagination and play. ANY SUGGESTIONS WOULD BE HELPFUL. We try to use Lego to teach him things like following instructions, colors, and maths. I will refer to pieces as "two by four block " or "four by eight flat" and he must count the "dots" on the pieces, and tell us what the answer is. He has completed several larger lego with no assistance at all. We then Facebook a picture, which he also loves as our family and friends can be part of encouraging and rewarding him. He also loves the "Cars" movies, so we have found him Cars lego which has been great. I think lego is great for kids on the spectrum.
•    Anonymous said... Same with my soon to be teen.....most of his lego is stored in basement as he outgrew it.....still builds a bit but gradually new interests took over....right now it is midievil history....lol
•    Anonymous said... Sounds just like my Dylan. His room is filled with lego. At times you cannot even see the floor. We too have put bins in his room to help keep things organized. When it gets too much I make him clean up. However the next day they are all over the place again. It is an ongoing struggle! Lego is his comfort so to remove it from his room would not be a good idea. So we just keep encouraging the constant clean up.
•    Anonymous said... Yes as we have found with my youngest his obsession Thomas and Lego Ninjargo. These have encouraged creativity and imagination not only with play, but with his story writing at school. They also have Thomas rewards stickers at school which are used for really good work and to encourage new tasks, he will try anything for a Thomas sticker.
•    Anonymous said... YES keep them. We go to lots of lego conventions and there are many adult Lego clubs. might be a good social thing for him as he gets older. Also, I have a 5-yr-old NT boy, and he has all his own lego obsession, paired with all his 16-yr-old aspie brother's legos. It IS overwhelming. LOL Just try not to step on them.
•    Anonymous said... Yes! My husband has a cousin who's been collecting Star Wars Lego sets for years... He doesn't have aspergers and he's in his late 30's and he still gets them for holidays! It's a hobby like any other thing! Aspies get labeled with the word obsession but I think it's a passion and we all have them! And indulging them is to encourage them! Maybe he'll become an engineer for Lego someday! That's a career creating Legos and its a real job listed on their website believe it or not! And the only thing he will remember when he older and happy with his work is that his wonderful parents encouraged his dreams!
•    Anonymous said... Yes, we put a line of shelves all the way around my sons room, along with other bookcases. Soon he will move onto another obsession all on his own.
•    Anonymous said... Yes. People with aspergers have a better ability to visualise things in three dimensions, they may well struggle to draw in 2D, but will excel at 3D. Really there are strengths and weaknesses to this, work on the strengths, and learn to identify and counter the weaknesses.

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34 comments:

Anonymous said...

there could be worse obsessions.

Anonymous said...

they say playing with Legos helps with math, science and problem solving.

HallieMiddlebrooks said...

My 6 year old Aspie is also a Lego fanatic. We use new Legos as a motivator for him to do chores, homework, etc. He's also got several Lego apps on his iPad2. I just deal with it. Maybe he'll be an engineer or architect and build real buildings some day.

Anonymous said...

This is a tough one. My son is like this with Batman. He wants every Batman figurine he can get his hands on, and until he has them he bugs me to death asking for them. It's almost like I want to buy them for him so he'll quit asking but I don't want to spoil him either. And if he's like my son you can't get rid of anything, even one piece he'd notice and it would send him in to a rage. So I'm sure taking down a structure is out of the question. I hope someone on here will have some good advice.

Anonymous said...

I was talking with my son's school about his obsessions and steering him away. They said as long as it's not hurting anyone to not worry about his obsessions. I had wanted them to encourage other play, but they were instant that it really was not a big deal. Like Amanda said, there could be worse obsessions. My son's obsession is the color yellow. Other things come into play for 6-9 months like toys or characters, but they eventually phase out.

Anonymous said...

have you tried using the Legos to branch off into another interest? use space legos to move him toward other space related activities etc.

Anonymous said...

My son is Aspie too.He goes through periods of obsessions with different things. None of them are harmful, so why not keep his mind busy creating. They are going to have obsessions, I think your son's obsession is a healthy one, educational too. He could be an architect one day. :)

Anonymous said...

my eldest girl whom is 16 is obsessed by lego she has been since she was little, she has other obsessions also but I encouraged the lego 1 more. Because now she is able to follow instructions and build anything from tv units to flat packed wardrobes I think lego is marvellous and has many benefits.. My youngest little man is 6 with a dx of autism he 2 adores lego would spend hours building and constructing I think it is helping him devlop his attention span and fine motor skills which in turn could benefit his handwriting.. It helps with problem solving as well so in my opinion I love lego it has amazing benefits

Anonymous said...

Obsessions will vary from time to time. Lego building is good for him.

Anonymous said...

I think it should be fine. My 12 year old Aspie son is obsessed with fish and anything to do with them. Its not hurting anyone and it makes him happy. They have a wide imagination and that is how some of them show their ideas. I bet his room looks great !!
22 minutes ago · Like

Anonymous said...

my son was obssessed with jesus and ebeneezer scrooge that was a strange few months he is now at a power rangers stage x

Anonymous said...

I too deal with the Lego obsession with my 9 year old son. I have to get bins to put Legos in. I have one bin that slides under his bed for his current Lego's he is playing with. I have many tubs of Lego's in his closet and from time to time I empty half of a bin/tub and put them in a bag by the trash (where someone finds them and takes them for there kids, or the thrift store). I have to do this to make room for new ones or else it would be out if control. So I don't think Legos are a bad obsession to have but it can get out of control with to many (like thousands) LOL :)
PS every once in a while he will wonder where one little price went and I panic a bit and just play the "I don't know sweetie" card :P

Ilene said...

Okay, this is going to sound mean, but why does the child have so many lego's? I can understand obsessions as my child spends way more time on the computer than he should, but someone is buying all of these Legos. Even if the child 'buys them with his allowance' we place restrictions on how much of something my child can buy.

Anonymous said...

I wish mine would touch a Lego! He's 7 and all I hear about is pokemon. He knows every name all their attacks and everything about the games! I'll swap pokemon for Lego any day! But if it doesn't go let them go :) it's distressing for them to be torn away from things like that and if you stop it he will find something else to obsess over eventually. We buy my son pokemon cards and trade him cards for house work. I get weeks of work for just 1 nintendo game :)

Anonymous said...

My Aspie son started at age 4 collecting. He's 14 now and still collects them. He makes the most amazing creations of his own. He also makes stop motion videos with his Legos. He makes big sets out of them. It's amazing. I think it's so very creative and he loves it.

Anonymous said...

My daughter too! She LOVES her legislation and making creations!! She's 7 1/2 & has been collecting them since 4 years old ! She is very organized! I like how legos help her find a nuetral common with her peers :-) she was getting really upset that no one like science and bugs. LOL!
12 minutes ago via mobile · Like

Anonymous said...

pokemon my son is 15 and has been obsessed since he was about 6 I really have grown to dislike pokemon

Anonymous said...

My son's obsessions are Legos and Star Wars mostly, so we have a lot of legos and star wars stuff, and lego star wars sets, etc. I don't see anything wrong with it. The legos help with fine motor skills and it's a creative outlet for him.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is nearly 15 - she has AS. I don't called it obsessions I say 'Special Interests'... She's had special interests that started as a toddler with Polly Pockets then moved onto Dennis the Menace, Roald Dahl was an interesting one I helped her all I could we visited the museum - we asked if she could read un-published books - she even won a Whole School Quiz on Roald Dahl because of her knowledge at that time!!! It moved onto Pokemon - cards - books - films - everything Pokemon - keeping lists - facts - ds games - until she had exhausted the subject!!! However, she is now this amazing ray of sunshine that surprises me every day - her 'Special Interest' now is Japanese Manga/Animee.

Anonymous said...

all our kids have special obsessions and yes ill call it that cause he is obsessed and frankly i dont care it makes him happy. one if it gets overwelming in my house i have him take a picture of it and put it in his book ;) works well he gets to take as many pics as he wants of it..then he can choose one or more to destroy and redo..in some ways hes said he likes it - gives him a challenge to build it again off his photos or new design... that and having a mini art gallery night/party for him every now and then keeps him from getting all upset...friends have bought some work and he loves when he visits to see his work displayed proudly! try some lego clubs- i know some cities have them our library here does one..they build there and its got to be taken down to take your legos home or for others to use their supply next time...

Anonymous said...

My 8 year old is the same. I cannot even see the floor in jis bedroom most of the time. It drives me nuts! However Lego helps him calm down and so gor now I try not to go in there.

Anonymous said...

My son was totally obsessed with building anything - legos, k'nex, etc... Primarily he enjoyed K'nex because he could build models that moved. We ended up finding it to be a great way to help bridge him to other interests. K'nex runs an annual building contest (K'NEXpert) and I am so proud that my son ended up winning the grand prize for his age group this past year! Winning $20,000 towards college. I wrote a parent story available on their Knex.com website telling how the contest really helped motivate him to do so many things that he wouldn't otherwise have done. He wanted to build a large K'nex Skyride and so he ended up riding a number of skyrides that summer to do research. My son wouldn't otherwise have ever gone on anything where his feet weren't touching the ground!

Anonymous said...

My 6 yo aspie is obsessed with legos too. I say go for it. My husband just built 6 - 4 foot shelves to hold his creations. I am sure we will be building more soon. At least it is a hand, eye, mind activity and is not video games :)

Anonymous said...

Let him keep collecting!!! That 5 year old's Lego masterpieces are tomorrow's engineering phenomenon! Trust me! My aspie is 13 and although he, like others, has phased through several obsessions - the Legos have not stopped fascinating and entertaining him since he was two years old. Interesting how Legos are such a common interest among Aspies? Love to see what the connection is.
19 hours ago via mobile · Like

Anonymous said...

Ahh a place of like minds my son had big any lego buzz since 4 even takes all the tyres off to make trains it lives in conservatory, my daughter had about 35 each my little ponies & barbies.

Anonymous said...

My son only has two or three sets. I definitely need to get him playing with those more to improve his skills.

Anonymous said...

Let him collect. My son has an extensive hoard of Transformers, Legos, Pokemon and Bionicle. He also has a thing for Play Doh.
[The collections do gain value even if they are used] One day they will be sold to contribute to the higher learning fund or if he chooses, his first car. They keep him occupied, in his room and quiet for hours and although I love spending time with him, I do need the extended breaks those interesting toys provide.
If you want to branch out his interest and avoid buying any more Legos, try offering him a video camera w/tripod and teach him stop motion. He can watch his creations build/change/disassemble themselves on film. It should keep him occupied with the store of supplies he already has. Worked for me.

Anonymous said...

My son was totally obsessed with building anything - legos, k'nex, etc... Primarily he enjoyed K'nex because he could build models that moved. We ended up finding it to be a great way to help bridge him to other interests. K'nex runs an annual building contest (K'NEXpert) and I am so proud that my son ended up winning the grand prize for his age group this past year! Winning $20,000 towards college. I wrote a parent story available on their Knex.com website telling how the contest really helped motivate him to do so many things that he wouldn't otherwise have done. He wanted to build a large K'nex Skyride and so he ended up riding a number of skyrides that summer to do research. My son wouldn't otherwise have ever gone on anything where his feet weren't touching the ground!

Anonymous said...

My son also has this obsession, and as previously said, it could be worse, though is an expensive hobby. He used to love Thomas, and honed his building skills on elaborate track systems prior to the millions of creations he has made with LEGO. It's always a balancing act, though, with his obsessions, like making sure they don't encroach upon my space, making sure that having his favorite in his pocket is less important than remembering to bring his homework to school (not winning that one), trying to avoid the meltdown if the agreed upon target goal (new lego, earned through elaborate point systems) cannot be bought TODAY. I would rather channel this energy to LEGO than something else less desirable. ANd now, I am hopeful that maybe he'll win one of the contests that he is usually entering (thanks for sharing Karen B).
13 hours ago · Like · 2

Anonymous said...

We use it as part of our son's behavior plan. I think they are great for fine motor skills. I love the picture idea, so they can remember their projects. My son wants to keep all the boxes. I told him just the directions or we might end up on Hoarders. At least they give him something to talk about with his peers. And if you have ever been through a "Thomas the Tank" obsessions Legos seem like a dream come true. LOL

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with the posts above. The First Lego League along with robotics it teaches teamwork and great skills like research and public speaking. Anyone can start a group not just schools or teachers ours was started by parents of a lego crazy kid! http://www.firstlegoleague.org/

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the K'nexpert info too - I encourage any of your kids to enter... it is such a great experience, and if they qualify they can tour the headquarters and meet the design team... so cool. The entry for the contest usually runs over the summer... http://www.knex.com/club/knexperts.php
2 hours ago · Like

Anonymous said...

My apergers son who is now 12 has been playing with his lego since he was about 2 or 3 he loves it along with his younger brother and sister they can play for hours not always together now as they use it in completely different ways... i have to admit i also played lego when i was a child for years i found it to be the best invention ever and still do... There is so many things you can build and do with lego they are even using it in one of our secondary schools to make there own videos in visual movies classes... Number one toy on the market it helps with maths, motor skills, focus, well the list goes on if you think about it... :)

HarryMonmouth said...

Talking from the other side of the fence here I have to say it makes me smile to see you talking about all your kids who remind me so much of me. I do agree that there can be good obsessions. I'm about 40 now and my obsession is fairly broad. I am not limited into one narrow focus but am more obsessed with learning everything there is to learn. Obviously this is absolutely impossible and I find that I lose sleep because I cannot stop reading until I drop and then I wake up early and I miss meals. I have to read while I am walking. I cannot stop. Certainly it is a blessing in many ways but it is also a torture. It is as though you asked for the gift of immortality and then had to live through the death of civilisation and extinction of humanity and through an eternity of loneliness. I exaggerate but I am not far off the scenarios I see as an inevitability of my obsession.

My point is that while it is great to be able to focus for a long time, and the reason I stopped taking some of my medications is because this ability to focus is part of who I am and something that gave me an advantage over other people in my field, it is essential to be able to control it. I have adjusted a lot through my life and have been reasonably successful but in other ways I am a complete disaster.

Of course I was born before Hans Asperger's recognition of my condition so I didn't have any counselling when I was young, but I kind of wish I could have. Medication at a young age would have been pointless, perhaps it might have helped in my teens but then I would never have become who I am. Counselling and some kind of education in how to control my tendencies would have helped a lot. As it is I learnt a lot about how to fit in through trial and error. In some ways my idiosyncrasies are very advantageous but there are still these 'beneficial' tendencies that I didn't seek to learn how to control and as I have matured it is these which have become most debilitating.

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