Dealing with Restricted Range of Interests in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“Any tips for dealing with a child (high functioning) who only talks about his current favorite game (Lego DC super-villains)? When I say ‘only’ – I mean as in 100 % of the time. His incessant rambling on this subject gets in the way of homework, chores, dinnertime, bedtime, and annoys his siblings (just to name a few). Please help!”

You’re definitely not alone. Kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s often have eccentric preoccupations or intense fixations (e.g., sometimes obsessively collecting unusual things).

They tend to ask repetitive questions about the special interest, follow their own inclinations regardless of external demands, have trouble letting go of ideas, refuse to learn about anything outside their limited field of interest, and relentlessly "lecture" on areas of interest.

Here are a few suggestions for dealing with your son’s obsession:

1. Use your son’s fixation to broaden his interests. Get really creative here! For example, he can use his fascination with Lego DC Super-Villains as a way to:
  • contemplate important social skills (e.g., one mother of an HFA child stated, “The main draw of the game for my son is he absolutely has a blast having his character interact with others in the world and actually be a major part of the story”)
  • gain a better understanding of his emotions (e.g., another parent remarked, “This game was a huge hit in my house as my son made multiple costumes depending on his mood”).

2. Use positive reinforcement selectively directed to shape a desired behavior. Most kids on the autism spectrum respond well to compliments. In the case of your son relentlessly talking about one topic, you can consistently praise him as soon as he pauses – and congratulate him for allowing others to speak. Your son should also be praised for simple, expected social behavior that is taken for granted in his “typical” siblings.

3. Some kids on the spectrum will simply refuse to focus on something outside of their area of interest. In this case, firm expectations must be set for doing chores, completion of homework, getting ready for bed, etc. It must be made very clear to your son that he is not in control, and that he must follow specific rules. At the same time, however, meet him halfway by giving him opportunities to pursue his own interests at the appropriate times.

4. See if it’s possible for your son’s teacher to give some assignments that link his interest to a subject being studied at school. For example, during a social studies unit about a specific country, one student (with Asperger’s) who was obsessed with trains was assigned to research the modes of transportation used by people in that country.

5. Do not allow your son to repeatedly discuss - or ask questions about - his isolated interest. Limit this behavior by designating a specific time during the day when he can talk about it. For example, if while eating dinner you are talking about the guests who will be coming over for a Christmas party, but your son intrudes with a monologue about the Lego game, you can simply state the “we are not discussing your game right now …we can talk about that after dinner” (then continue with the original conversation).

One child who was fixated on animals and had endless questions about turtles knew that she was allowed to ask these questions only after dinner. This was part of her daily routine, and she quickly learned to stop herself when she began asking these kinds of questions at other times of the day.

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