Dealing with Obsessions and Compulsive Behaviors in Children on the Autism Spectrum

"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 ASD or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) 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 the disorder.

While most of the core issues with HFA can’t be "cured," there are ways a family can cope with such issues and learn to overcome some of them. For example, kids on the autism spectrum can be explicitly taught better ways of communication with others, which will lessen their focus on the obsession or other solitary activities. 

Certain types of cognitive behavioral therapy can help as well. Finally, in severe cases, 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 "special needs" child. It helps to learn as much as you can about the disorder and its nuances. Learn as much about your child as you can, and learn which things trigger inappropriate compulsive behavior so they can be avoided. 

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

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Allow others (e.g., therapists, teachers, 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 excessively.

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    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
•    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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