Repetitive Thoughts in Children on the Autism Spectrum


What about being sensitive to the tone of voice of people, and then having the conversations looping or repeating in my son's (high functioning autistic) head? He said they loop through his head for hours, and he has to keep going over that portion of the conversation where the tone was too loud.


A potential source of sensory overload for a youngster with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger's is voice – especially tone of voice. The child may analyze voice-tone first, and then decode the words used by the speaker later. Any voice inflection by the speaker that remotely conveys a negative attitude (e.g., sarcasm, irritation, criticism, etc.) may be detected by the child - and taken personally.

A negative tone can be hurtful to an HFA or AS youngster, particularly if he or she is not sure why the speaker is employing a particular inflection (e.g., “Is she upset with me?” … “Did I do something wrong?” … “Why does she sound mad?”…etc.). A loop effect can occur in the child’s thinking process (i.e., mulls over the comment made by the speaker long after the conversation has ended). Anxiety, agitation and fear increase as the child attempts to analyze the motives of the speaker.

What we’re really referring to here is the child’s obsessive way of thinking. One of the most bothersome traits of the disorder may be the tendency toward repetitive thoughts (i.e., ruminations). While the ability toward extreme focus can be a strong point for many of these kids, it’s a problem when they can’t shift away from thinking about things that are not of their choosing. Often, the youngster gets caught up in worries, dwells on past slights from others, ponders their own mistakes, or has problems letting go of past hurts.

How to Deal with Ruminations: Tips for Your Child—

1. Don't put yourself down because you are thinking this way. Old habits are hard to break. You might find yourself making notes more than you would like, but keep doing it. If you have to replace a thousand negative thoughts with positive, just do it. Pretty soon that will become habit instead.

2. Identify your triggers. Determine the best possible reaction to them and keep this in mind. In addition, it may be necessary to remove the trigger from your life, if it is affecting your well-being and sanity.

3. It may be necessary for you to receive counseling from a trained professional to determine if there are some deep rooted issues causing your obsessive thinking patterns.

4. Keep an open mind about taking medication for your condition. There are many options available to help you get back on track.

5. Make mental notes of things that are being done as they are done. Write it down if necessary. While standing in front of the oven, turn it off, say to yourself "Now I am turning this oven off, I see myself doing it, I see that it is now off, I'm OK."

6. Maybe negative thinking has become an obsession for you and maybe you have thought negatively for as long as you can remember. If you find yourself thinking negatively stop and ask yourself "Is this really true what I'm thinking?"

7. Once you find yourself obsessing over a given issue, stop yourself immediately and begin to observe your thought process. You may find it necessary to record your thoughts on paper. You could become surprised at how often you are slipping into a bad thought process.

8. Realization is an important step in gaining control over obsessive thinking. One must be able to identify and realize when the thought process is getting out of hand.

9. Remember that most obsessive thinking also involves doubting. That is why OCD is also called "the doubting disease". When needing to check things over and over again, realize that you are doubting yourself; when you feel the need to recheck, doubt has crept in. By beginning to stop and take mental notes of what you have already done, you can begin to convince yourself not to recheck. Remember, checking and rechecking is a known symptom of OCD.

10. Think about what you know to be true and compare that to your negative thought. Immediately replace the negative thought with something positive.

[Please share the suggestions above with your child.]

There are two primary courses of treatment for obsessive thinking:

The first line of defense is behavioral therapy. This involves gradual conditioning of the person to tolerate anxiety and abstain from compulsive behavior. This is believed to be the most effective treatment for treating obsessive thinking and anxiety.

Medication includes selective serotinin reuptake inhibitors, benzodiazepines, serotonergic antidepressants, trycyclic antidepressants and natural drug treatment like St. John's Wort and so on. In severe cases, electro-convulsive therapy has been found to work effectively on obsessive thinking.

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