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Aspergers Children: Obsessions and Rituals

Question

My Aspergers son spends all his time collecting and ruminating over his baseball cards. That’s ALL he talks about, all day long: baseball trivia (names of teams, names of players, player stats, and on and on...). Is this Aspergers related behavior, and how can I get him to broaden his interests?


Answer

Rituals and obsessions are one of the hallmarks of Aspergers (high functioning autism) and other Autistic Spectrum Disorders. In order to cope with the anxieties and stresses about the chaotic world around them, children often obsess and ritualize their behaviors to comfort themselves. While some children may spend their time intensely studying one area, others may be compulsive about cleaning, lining up items, or even doing things which put them or others in danger.

Based on data from psychological testing, it is likely that the memory of the youngster with Aspergers may not be better than others in general, but the huge collection of facts he knows probably represents the amount of time and effort that has gone into accumulating knowledge on one or two subjects to the exclusion of much else. The obsessions are not necessarily characterized by memorization of data alone.

The term “systemizing” applies to the “fascination with data” that has inherent networks, such as maps, weather patterns, or airline schedules. Although it is commonly thought that obsessions can be strengths that can be utilized in the educational process, these obsessions can interfere significantly with other important daily functions. Children with Aspergers are more interested in systems that can be described as “folk physics” (an interest in how things work) versus “folk psychology” (an interest in how people work).

Obsessions aren't always so bad, especially if they are some of educational or healthful value, but when mixed with the mental makeup of a child with Aspergers, problems may arise. Kids with Aspergers have trouble with social and emotional development and understanding the nonverbal cues in a conversation. While they are more than happy to start discussing their subject of obsession to another person, they will most likely not notice if the other person is not interested.

They may not get the hint of a person's disinterest or lack of time to talk. They may instead proceed to follow another person around continuing to talk on and on about their area of fascination. They may go right up to someone else already engaged in conversation and interrupt them to begin associating their topic of interest with their obsession. They may take over a conversation and talk endlessly not leaving much time or room for any feedback from another.

Kids with Aspergers may become so obsessed with a particular toy, game, or subject, that they may push friends away unknowingly. They may leave little time for anything else, and homework may suffer. They may become too easily distracted always thinking back to their obsession and not be able to stay on task.

Moms and dads need to take care to allow their kids to be passionate about certain subjects but to not let it entirely rule their lives. If a child is overly obsessed with playing video games of play on the computer, it is OK to give them some time to play, but the time should be limited. Even if the subject of fascination is reading books or doing science experiments, it is still important that time be given to other subjects or just to get out to get some exercise.

Kids with Aspergers do not learn the social norms and common sense ideas the same way another child does. They may never completely understand the reasons why things matter socially. They may not see any reason why they shouldn't devote all their time to their one major fascination. Moms and dads can take consideration for their passion, but also help them become a more socially rounded person. It is important, however, if a child fixates on a particularly bad habit or inappropriate subject matter, that a parent put an end to it immediately.

Even with Aspergers, a child will eventually notice when a parent is not interested and it may become hurtful. Moms and dads should take the time to listen to their child and even learn about what is so fascinating. A parent who will take the extra initiative to go visit a planetarium for their child interested in space, or take a trip to a dinosaur museum for the child obsessed with dinosaurs, will give their child the extra support and assurance they need.

Choose your battles wisely. Breaking an obsession or ritual is like running a war campaign. If not planned wisely or if you attempt to fight on many fronts, you're guaranteed to fail. Not only is it time consuming and tiring, it means you can't devote 100% to each particular area. So, if you have a youngster with (1) a game obsession, (2) a phobia of brushing his teeth, and (3) bedtime troubles, choose only one to deal with. Deal with the worst problem first!

When tackling any problem with any youngster, Aspergers or not, it's always best to remain calm at all times. Children can feed off your anger, frustration and anxiety, so keeping a level head at all times is essential. If you feel a situation is escalating and elevating your blood pressure, take a step back and collect yourself.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook


 COMMENTS:
    •    Anonymous said... With time obsessions change, evolve...as long as it doesn't interfere with their studies.
    •    Anonymous said... Definitely Asperger's related!! My son used to categorize his trains when he was little by their "usefulness" as he put it. The we moved on to Legos and them needing to be categorized by shape, size, color, etc. Your son will be fine. There is nothing wrong with fixating on one subject or area within a subject...he can't help it. Throughout his life he will go on to other things, on his own time. I myself had a baseball card fixation when I was younger, then I moved on, then ended up coming back, re-sorting previous collections, staring a new one, etc..
    •    Anonymous said... Don't bother. My son now 21 and in college still crazy about trains. But think of their interest in a broader spectrum is easier. I got Eurail maps for him and he learned geography and history. Be age appropriate but go for it. Baseball is worldwide. There are teams in many other counties. Japan is one.
    •    Anonymous said... I never really felt the need to broaden my sons interests. He has similar behaviors with other things that he perseverates on and I think it is such a unique characteristic to him and other children like him that I try to support it and encourage him to learn in a variety of different ways. I have always made sure that I expose him to a variety of different things and interests and I've always given him many different flavors in life such as different sports different TV shows and now different YouTube channels but in the end I just encourage his interactions with what he enjoys. Because my son would focus on one thing I would use that to my advantage and use that one thing to show him many different avenues with sports you can use statistics for math you can use teamwork for socialization you can use whatever it is that they focus on as your grounds and topic for teaching them important things in life. In the end what really matters I think it's happiness health and being able to function in society. We all have a different purpose in our life and whether your purpose is baseball, teaching or just inspiring others I really try to provide my son with as much support for his purpose as he needs.
    •    Anonymous said... Most children with Aspergers also have OCD (like my son) and the have something that they just cling to. For my son it's the video games Skylanders. The best thing you can do is try to introduce him to as many different things as possible. Now that doesn't guarantee that he won't revert back to the game cards but it will plant seeds for other options.
    •    Anonymous said... My daughter obsessively studies dogs, if we are out and she sees a dog she will ask what breed it is, of course that is not enough, she wants to know its weight, coat type, how much walking it does, how fast it runs, what it was used for in history, what health issues the breed has.... It goes on and on!!... and on.
    I brought her a note book, and a dog encyclopedia, she can draw a picture and write 5 facts about the particular breed. Works very well.
    •    Anonymous said... My son has his obsession with fish tanks. He's now scuba certified and taught himself to maintain a saltwater reef. Use the obsessions as a life lesson and let them run with it. It's a great thing to watch a child so tuned in and focused.
    *   Anonymous said... There are a number of issues to overcome....misdiagnosis, wrong medications and side effects, judgemental people in society and of course how the rest of the family is effected!! On top of all this, theres not enough support with regards to assessments and ongoing therapy, especially if your not wealthy!
    *   Anonymous said... Can you tell me what medication your referring to which can assist with obsessive behavior?
    *   Anonymous said... My son has extreme OCD with his Aspergers. Doctors want me to put him on Prozac , which I am etremely hesitant to do. Does anyone else have experience with this?

    Post your comment below...

    10 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

    Anonymous said...

    Michelle Cagle Thank you! You always provide great advice. :) I think I will just start with the psp. I don't want to upset him or my girls. Thank you for providing such a valuable resources.

    Anonymous said...

    Quinlan is obsessed with batteries and anything electronic. Does anyone have any suggestions on guiding his obsessions into a less intrusive way. He takes my girls electronic toys (psp, leapsters, laptops etc...) I don't want my girls feelings like their problems are not important to me.

    Anonymous said...

    Dear All,

    We have a 14 old son who had been diagnosed with PDD-NOS/Aspergrs kind of syndrome since 3. Sometimes he has compulsive/obsessive issues mentioned below. These issues were there earlier also, but now the tantrums thrown are more difficult to handle as the kid is growing up. Please advise any web resources, books etc useful for handling these kinds of issues. What kind of professional is best suited for handling these kinds of issues.

    Sample Issues:

    - Parents put calculator in a bit tight plastic pocket in the school binder, threw a big tantrum saying that you put SCARS on the plastic pocket in the binder and wanted new binder immediately.

    - Got a binder for him with planner inside. He also got a planner from school. Did not want to use the binder parents bought as that has something extra (extra planner!) and insisted on buying a new binder.

    - Got some online membership thru web and got the code in email. Insisted on cancelling that and wanted to buy physical membership card from the store so he has the pleasure of taking off sticker saying other kids do same. Tried to talk a lot giving facts that many kids buy from web, but still insisted.

    - Got some papers form school like school schedule. Parent by mistake folded that paper. Made a big issue. Wanted to get schedule on exactly same color paper from school. Too shy to ask himself in the school for that paper. Got some another paper from school, parents made a Xerox copy of the blank form before filling, got upset why you made copy and insisted on getting same paper again from school.

    - Took him to store to get some Pokémon thru Wifi. Insisted on buying something from store as in the web news about the Pokémon event also said ' when you are in the store, buy so and so'. Tried to convince that you buy if you like or need but not because of ad, but no convincing.

    We are familiar with Dr Greenspan's literature and try to break the issue in detail and explain. But usually he won't listen. Sometimes it seems he understood, but he will still insist.

    Thanks

    Anonymous said...

    Hi,

    I'm an aspie, all growed up, and I can relate to the obsessional behaviour. It's like your brain gets stuck. I'd be going along and think, "Boy, I'd like to buy a new couch," and, then I'd end up spending the next twelve hours Internet shopping or reading decorating books or what-not. And, the obsession would continue for weeks until I couldn't stand myself.

    For me, I noticed the obsessional thinking is worse when I'm depressed. Medication has, almost, eliminated the issue for me. I notice when I don't take my medication, the obsessional thinking creeps back--especially in the wintertime.

    As a mom, I known how hard it must be to watch. As an Aspie, I know the power of the obsession. It's like you can't stop until you see some sort of closure. With a video game, for me, it's the point where I solve the game. In some cases, I've allowed myself to go with it until the end because I know the obsession will stop then.

    Maybe try to give him things with some definite ending so when it's done, it's done. Jigsaw puzzles satisfy this urge for me...so does cleaning a closet or cupboard. Heck maybe he can help organize the house!

    Take care,
    Heather

    Anonymous said...

    I have a 12 year old son who was diagnosed with Asperger's 2 years ago.
    Although we struggle with several areas with Joshua one very major one
    is change. We have a dilapidated chair he refuses to let go of, also an old
    mattress which he dragged back in from our bulk pick-up area outside.
    Just the thought of us getting rid of it turns into a major melt-down.
    All the major change issues are based, he tells us, on the death of his
    puppy a year ago in Nov. We can't get rid of the chair because I held Poseidon
    in it. I can't get rid of the bed because Poseidon slept there, I can't
    cut my hair because I had this hair when Poseidon died. This goes on and on and on.
    His screams turn to threats and lastly he just cries. Have you heard of any
    other child having these types of change issues?

    Anonymous said...

    He needs to understand and respect the rules about respecting other people's things. He can request to borrow them for an amount of time but not more. Try the organic approach to widening his interests from batteries and electronics. Discuss the history, chemistry of the things that presently interest him. Introduce him to the companies that produce them, environmental issues related to producing them, etc. Ask him to think about inventions and look at biographies of inventors. Discuss how electronics have improved our lives.

    Bob Dylan said...

    That is an awesome answer to the above question! I'd like to add: get junk electronics, and let him take them apart. That's how my dad got me to stop dismantling things I shouldn't. You can find stuff at yard sales, ask around, or if you're rural get broken stuff at the dumpster ;) Before you know it, he'll be FIXING those things he's taken apart. My opinion: keep him away from mechanicing. I'm 33 and my body hurts bad enough to get my limited attention. I guess I worked with a fervor that my body can't handle. I exceeded the knowledge of anyone I could find to talk to about electronics, then someone gave me a box of chainsaws, and I shifted gears and haunted the saw shops (I was 11). I was running a sawyer saw before I was big enough for an 85cc saw. No one ever knew what was wrong with me and of course,I didn't notice I was different until I noticed that all my brothers and sisters had friends...I only had acquaintances :( I still have a hard time being a decent friend to the one guy I've maintained a friendship with. I still live in the cabin I was born in...I can't effectively socialize with people who didn't grow up around me, and I startle those who don't know me. I get so excited about things I know about that it's fairly common for people to think I'm on drugs. I've been alone for the past eight years... I don't know how this could've been prevented, but find out for the kid. The older I get, the sadder I get...

    Bethany Ring said...

    We have a 13yr old with high functioning autism. As a youngster he fixated on fans. Then it was EVERY detail about cars. He has since progressed to an obsession with 80s video games. He is 7th grade going into 8th and we are Really starting to worry. He has never had a problem with grades before. He has always been in honors classes with ease. With this fixation and puberty, his grades has plummeted and his priorities are null (aside from HIS games). We have been on this fixation for going on 4 years and it is only getting worse. He does the typical aspie type social behavior of pestering peers with his interest and it has even led to all out meltdowns at school and altercations with others (too include adults). He has set rules of having to complete household chores, homework, hygiene, etc. Before he is allowed to game, and we set a time limit. However, it has gotten to the point where nothing else matters to him and we are highly concerned about the coming years in high school and preparing for the real world. We went so far as trying to embrace the obsession by enrolling him in a pc video game creating class in hopes of it becoming useful for his future. He did not follow the guidelines of the class and created what he liked instead. How to we get him onto the next thing or steer him towards something more productive? ? Thanks for the feedback!!!

    Mona Trejo said...

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