Are there any medications or techniques to address the zoning out??


"I have a 9 year old son who was mildly diagnosed with Autism [level 1] when he was in second grade. He is very social, likes to tell jokes, is involved in a swimming team at the YMCA and has lots of play dates. His main problem is in school and doing homework... he tends to be in this "low arousal state" where he appears to be "zoning out". He has a para which basically helps him to stay focused. He is about 5 reading levels behind grade level. He has trouble with inference and thinking outside the box. Math word problems are difficult. He doesn't exhibit any depression, hyperactivity, temper tantrums, or stemming. He is very pleasant to people and makes eye contact. Are there any medications or techniques to address the zoning out?? I know he's paying attention since when presented with a question, he usually answers correctly. Again, this only occurs during school and homework. He also has been heavily stuttering out of nowhere for over a year. He receives speech 3x's to 2x's and adaptive phy.ed. Any information would be great."


One of the unusual abilities that high-functioning autistic kids have is “hyper-focus”. Like all ASD traits, hyper-focus is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, when combined with the special interest and ASD long-term memory, it is responsible for the genius label as it applies to autistic children. On the other, it's responsible for many learning and obedience issues.

Hyper-focus is commonly found in ASD kids who also have the ADD/ADHD. In recent years, the definitions of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) have merged in the medical sense under the banner of ADHD. Personally, I'm not keen on this merging of diagnosis because while the two share similar definitions, there are some fundamental differences between them. 
While both ADHD and ADD kids have, by definition, attention issues, the hyperactive youngster is more likely to have attention problems due to hyperactivity itself while the ADD youngster is more likely to have a hyper-focus problem.

Consider the differences between the two:

1. A youngster who does not respond when his name is called because he is distracted or is shouting and jumping from chair to chair.

2. A youngster who is intently starring at a spinning wheel, or playing with some lego bricks and does not respond when his name is repeatedly called.

Hyper-focus is possibly the cause of the problem only in the second case.

One of the basic tenants of positive parenting and positive schooling is that the obedient youngster should be rewarded. In school for example, a youngster who is obviously paying attention will receive a reward while one who is not may be rebuked or simply ignored. This technique is generally quite effective with "typical" kids.

Unfortunately, this technique does not work with hyper-focused kids who go into daydream state - or "zone out" - automatically. Zoning out is not disobedience. This youngster is not trying to be naughty - they just happen to go into that state automatically.

The best remedy for these kids is for the teacher to work more closely with them and for more one-on-one time to be allocated. In schools, this isn't always practical and hyper-focused kids can often miss out on necessary attention and can fall behind. Often, such kids are labeled "slow" and are put into remedial classes simply because they lack the ability to remain "on-task".

Hyper-focus has a lot of advantages. It allows one to think more abstractly and with greater complexity. It is a particularly useful skill to have when you need to be able to model complex systems or think in an extremely logical manner (for computer programming). In the adult world, hyper-focus allows people with autism to deal with excessive levels of detail while still retaining a top-down approach.

Autistic kids tend to hyper-focus mainly on their special interests and they are able to take in and process large amounts of related information as a result.

The best way to make use of hyper-focus in primary school kids is to attempt to line their work up with their special interests whenever possible.

For example, if your youngster's special interest is trains, then giving them sentences to write about trains or mathematics problems regarding carriages, train sizes or weights, or giving them scientific projects on the use of electricity or steam in trains will allow the youngster to use their special interest to further their normal learning.
Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
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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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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.

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