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Rituals and Obsessions in Aspergers Children


I work with a young boy with Aspergers, and we (the parents and I) are looking for ways to help the child with repetitive (perseverative) thoughts, i.e., he wants to know what his snack is for school. He will ask his mom, his mom will tell him, then he will ask again while getting dressed, then ask again while getting on the bus, then he screams from the bus window, "what’s for snack today?", then the school nurse will call and say he needs to talk to Mom or Dad because he needs to ask again.


You’re referring to obsessive thoughts. Rituals and obsessions are one of the hallmarks of Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism. In order to cope with the anxieties and stresses about the chaotic world around them, kids often obsess and ritualize their behaviors to comfort themselves. While some kids 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.

How to deal with an Aspergers child's obsessions:

1. Be prepared for resistance by arming yourself with suggestions and alternatives to your youngster's behavior. A great way of doing this is by creating a "social story". Carol Gray's Social Stories site is a great resource for parents and educators alike to create books which will modify behavior in kids with autistic spectrum disorders.

2. 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 a game obsession, a phobia of baths and bedtime troubles, choose only one to deal with. Personally, and I have had that choice, I dealt with the bedtime troubles. Using logic, a sleep deprived youngster certainly isn't going to deal with behavioral modification in other areas well. Plus, it was having an effect on his overall health. Deal with the worst first!

3. Communicate with your youngster to explain the effect that his or her ritual is having on your family as a whole. My son's 2am wake-up calls were affecting me mentally, emotionally and physically, and I told him so. I pulled some research off the internet about sleep needs and discussed this with him.

4. Speak to professionals for advice. Contact your pediatrician for recommendations for behavior therapists. Your local parent support groups and national associations, such as the National Autistic Society, will not only provide you support but the information you need to move forward with your youngster.

5. When breaking an obsession or ritual, examine the ways that you may have fed into this. With my son's bedtime activities, I found I was too tired to fight his waking up at 2am. While dealing with this ritual, I ensured I was in bed early myself so I had enough sleep in me to knock his night owl tendencies on the head.

6. When tackling any problem with any youngster, Aspergers or not, it's always best to remain calm at all times. Kids 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.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns


•    Anonymous said… Can anyone advise when a child is fixated on a place eg the park, they will ask from the min they wake all day long. This is usually only resolved by going to the park or trying to reason that another day/time would be better. Tia.
•    Anonymous said… Can he take/pack his own snack and bring it in? He would have more control and might help him feel less anxious..?
•    Anonymous said… Draw a pic of snack
•    Anonymous said… I think this sounds like ADHD. He is not holding onto the information long enough to understand its meaning. I say don't make more work for yourself or the parents. Allow him to choose his snacks at the grocery store and pack them himself every morning.
•    Anonymous said… It's his routine,comfort, his way of processing that he is on way to school and maybe not very able to cope with that.
My son will say every night 'are you coming in afterwards'.
He knows I will come in as soon as I've read my younger daughter he story. And I tell him. But he has to ask. It's just what he does. Much to everyone's annoyance...that's his routine. Maybe it's because he needs me to say it to settle in his bed? Maybe he is checking? Maybe it's his comfort?
But, he asks every night and that's that!
•    Anonymous said… My son gets stuck on getting things he wants ie video games . He will basically badger us over and over about the thing he wants. When he earns it he will move onto something else he wants. I am not sure if this is bipolar mixed with Aspergers?
•    Anonymous said… Some good ideas here. You could also try giving limits to when he can ask and then reducing the number to once. So he can ask 3 times before school and no more. Then reduce to twice then once. All with the rule clearly stated and warning of it reducing. I found limiting things very effective. It may be the asking that is the obsession rather than the snack itself. Good luck.
•    Anonymous said… Take a picture and print it off
•    Anonymous said… Take a picture of his snack with his cell phone or tablet. Of he doesn't have one, plan ahead, take a picture of it, print it and let him put it in his pocket or put it in a lanyard with his lunch card. That way he can look at it for the answer.
•    Anonymous said… This is when I worry a child will be misdiagnosed with OCD. He can't process his snack for some reason, it's not obsession. The ideas above to help him process are great ideas.
•    Anonymous said… Try writing it on sticky notes and post them in the places he usually asks, his bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Also give him a note for his pocket too. I had to do this for my son and when he would ask, I would just point to the note. He got to the point where he would look for the note instead of asking. I also like the picture idea. My son was/is very visual. He remembers better if he can see the actual item. Hope this helps.
•    Anonymous said… We also take pics of things she needs to part with so she can look at them anytime (iPad) no clutter!
•    Anonymous said… We went thru this in second grade and started using a see through bag so he could learn to how to find the answer in his own. Worked like a charm. Keep laughing it helps
•    Anonymous said… Write it down for him and stick it in his pocket.Beware and prepare him that it could change if they are out of said snack.I get around the time thing like that.Ex.....I plan to be there at 12:00 but it could be 12:ish......ish is my favorite thing to add because it builds flexibility.

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Anonymous said...

Sounds soooo familiar...

Anonymous said...

My son had the same problem. What we started doing is taking a picture of the snack, printed out fold the pic and put it in his pants pocket. On back of the pic I would write this is your snack for It worked, now that he's 11 he no longer needs that. Best of Luck!

Anonymous said...

Could you make flash cards or picture cards of the snack and put it in his pocket? He'd have the power to see what he has at anytime. Visuals can be important.

Anonymous said...

We have done something similar with my son we took one of the foam boards that u can buy at Walmart and printed out picture and words an extra to put on the foam board and laminated the other and he does his day pretty much according to the foam board..... We have even found it to be help for getting his winter items on in the morning and anything that a set schedule would help with such as bedtime then he does not have to think about each item until he does it ..... It seems no matter what though he becomes fixated on certain things

Anonymous said...

My daughter is 13 and she does the same thing. I have her daily schedule written down in her Ipad so she can look at it throughout the day. I also have her breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks written down for the week so she can look it up as often as she wants. Makes life sooooo much easier. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

OK, if someone can help me please do, My son does this also..but his doctors say not to encourage it..don't do cards and foam boards, stuff like that cause it is only going to make him more likely to keep doing it.his doc says that I baby my son when I cater to his OCD behavior. I have come unglued by this and don't know what to do.His doc says we need to work on getting him able to deal and cope with REAL life, and as he gets older , he is 11, he can't be carrying around cards and stuff to calm him, I am so confused!

Anonymous said...

get a new's not catering to them, it's keeping sane!

Anonymous said...

i agree... I believe that you need to get a new doctor...I do not have a child with aspergers but I do have family members with other disorders and I believe that you should do for them what you can to make their life easier. If a picture or schedule will help them get through their day better give it to them. Life is hard enough without the added stress. Its your job to protect and nurture your child, thats not babying him. Its simply being a good mother.

Anonymous said...

OK you're all going to yell at me but my Aspie is also ADHD and I put him on Ritalin and while it's in effect, he has few to no OCD issues. When it wears off, they're back, but with it he can function without perseverative thoughts. He's in a normal first grade and doing great - as long as he has his "focus dust".

Anonymous said...

Hallie, whatever works for you. All the stims made my son's ocd much worse. We found Abilify helped tremendously!

Anonymous said...

I gave my son 3 baseball cards. He gives me a card when he asks a question. Once he is our of cards he cannot ask anymore about that topic. We weaned the cards and now it's a reminder" you already know the answer, think about it"

Anonymous said...

Without knowing the function for this behaviour, something you can try is to allow him to ask the question once and answer. If he asks again, remind him that he has already asked and this time have him write the question and answer down in a notebook. Then, anytime he asks again - tell him to check his notebook for the answer.

Anonymous said...

It is important to find out what the function of his behaviour is because he could be asking these questions repeatedly for various reasons ie: he wants attention, he likes the way the question sounds, he like what his snack is and is worried that he will not get it, etc

Anonymous said...

This is so familiar, I didn't realise that his asking the same thing over and over was a ritual but looking at it now it's so obvious... I haven't got any answers but thank you for posting this.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content