Search This Site

Showing posts sorted by relevance for query obsessions. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query obsessions. Sort by date Show all posts

"Special Interest" or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

"How do I know whether or not my child's 'special interest' is actually an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?"

The term “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” (OCD) is a clinical diagnosis that only a doctor can make. Many Aspergers and high functioning autistic (HFA) kids also share an OCD diagnosis, but the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual definition for Aspergers and HFA calls for very OCD-like behavior as one criterion.

It can be very confusing for parents, and even diagnosticians, as to whether or not the “special interest” is simply an Aspergers or HFA trait, or part of another diagnosis (in this case, OCD).

So, when is a “special interest” simply a “special interest,” and when is it legitimate OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic illness, a type of anxiety disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior. Unlike other anxiety disorders, the child knows that such thoughts and behaviors are irrational and silly, but cannot prevent themselves from having them.

(Note: There is a difference between OCD and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). OCPD is a mental disorder that is characterized by "preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency.")

With OCD, there are obsessions. Obsessions are defined as “distressing ideas, images or impulses that repeatedly intrude into the child’s awareness.” These thoughts are typically experienced as inappropriate, anxiety-arousing, and contrary to the child’s will or desires. Common obsessions include:
  • a need to have things "just so"
  • a need to tell, ask, or confess
  • contamination (e.g., fear of germs, dirt, etc.)
  • excessive religious or moral doubt
  • forbidden thoughts
  • imagining having harmed self or others
  • imagining losing control of aggressive urges
  • intrusive sexual thoughts or urges

However, obsessions are not the only telltale sign for OCD. Another symptom of OCD is compulsions. Compulsions are "repetitive behaviors or rituals that the child performs to counteract the anxiety and distress produced by obsessive thoughts." Common compulsions include:

• checking
• counting
• hoarding
• ordering/arranging
• praying
• repeating
• touching
• washing

Some of these compulsions are easily witnessed, but this is not always true. Not all compulsions are obvious; many are mental processes (e.g., counting, praying) and harder – if not impossible – to notice. Typically the compulsions correspond to the obsessions. For example:
  • aggressive, sexual, religious and somatic anxieties result in checking
  • an obsession with hoarding leads to hoarding and collecting
  • fears of contamination are accompanied by hand washing and cleaning
  • need for symmetry produces ordering, arranging, counting and repeating rituals

OCD kids usually have obsessions and corresponding compulsions, but may have either obsessions or compulsions alone. Observing these obsessions and compulsions may be difficult for a parent to notice, because the child may hide his symptoms. Noticing obsessions and compulsions is the first step in discovering whether or not a child has OCD, but several other conditions must be met for the diagnosis to be made. For you to diagnose your child as having OCD (instead of being just a little strange), a few other factors must be present.

If your child really has OCD, he will recognize that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable – he knows that what he is doing makes no sense. Many people who developed OCD did so as a child, and report knowing that there was something different (or wrong) about them in comparison to other children.

Another factor of OCD is that the obsessions and compulsions:
  • are inordinately time-consuming
  • cause marked distress
  • significantly interfere with the child's normal routine, occupational functioning, or social activities or relationships

OCD occurs when your youngster has thoughts (obsessions) or physical actions (compulsions) that seem out of his control, such that it becomes unpleasant, very stressful, or harmful in some way. This may - or may not - involve his special interest. It may involve some new, seemingly odd or purposeless focus on a bodily function, for example, or the need to repeatedly check his hands for cleanliness. If you notice that your child does have obsessions or compulsions that cause him to avoid people and social activities, than he may indeed have OCD. Some “red flag” indicators of OCD include:
  1. The need to indulge in his activity causes him to lose sleep, skip meals, or be late for school.
  2. He cannot seem to focus on - or discuss anything - but the activity.
  3. He has lost interest in his appearance, dress, and hygiene because the activity has become all-consuming.
  4. He is quick to lash-out and becomes verbally and/or physically abusive when you try to redirect him away from the activity of interest.
  5. He withdraws from family, friends, and pets in favor of spending unusual amounts of time involved in the special activity.

If you note any of these changes in your youngster, it will be important for you to gather information about what you are observing in order to prepare for meeting with a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist for a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation.

Even with all these symptoms, it is often difficult to diagnose a child with OCD. Since the OCD youngster knows his thoughts and actions are irrational, he may tend to conceal his problems. Often, parents will bring the child they suspect of OCD to a doctor's attention. Sometimes the disorder is revealed through secondary symptoms (e.g., dry hands from excessive hand washing). However, the diagnosis must be made by specific questioning by a doctor. Clinical interviews establishing a history of obsessive thought or ritualistic behavior is the primary method of diagnosis.

There are some things you can do to determine if your child should be evaluated for OCD. You could ask him the following questions: "Do you find yourself doing something unusual repeatedly? Does this seem normal to you - or does it seem weird?" You could also make it fun and use a diagnostic scale as a magazine quiz (these surveys pretty much work the same way as most magazine quizzes). The most commonly used is the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (available online). Also, the Work and Social Adjustment Scale (often used in combination with other diagnostic scales), and the Maudsely Obsessive Compulsive Inventory are good tools as well. There are also several online resources, such as the Obsessive Compulsive Screening Checklist and the National Institute of Mental Health Screening Test.

(Note: You should not attempt to make such a diagnosis on your own. The online resources above are only to help you determine whether your child has symptoms of OCD in order for him to seek a professional diagnosis.)

If your youngster's “special interest” fit the criteria for OCD, you may need to reinforce parental parameters by being very firm about scheduling activities and responsibilities and holding your youngster accountable. Use visual time frames (e.g., calendars, clocks and watches, personal schedules) to set limits for the amount of time your youngster is permitted to indulge in his special interests. Your child’s teachers will also need to be clear and concrete about rules and responsibilities during the school day. Apply appropriate disciplinary measures once you ensure all expectations have been made clear to your youngster.

Parents have the right to have expectations of their Aspergers or HFA youngster. You expect your youngster to uphold the standards you've set with regard to house rules and other obligations (e.g., doing chores, completing homework, showing respect, etc.). It is also fair to set parameters around the amount of time your youngster indulges in his special interest – especially if you can readily foresee the potential for him to get “lost” in it for long periods of time.

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Aspergers and HFA Children and Teens

Routines, Rituals and Obsessions in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“My 5 year old son is high functioning autistic and has an obsession for fans, and it’s been going on almost 6 months now. He talks and even draws a table fan constantly. He calls anything round a fan (even though he knows the real name of the object), but he imagines it to be a fan and moves those objects like a top. He can spend hours playing with them. He will collect all the fans in the house and line them up like toy soldiers. I am concerned that his passion for fans has turned into an obsession. In fact, now he knows more about them, the hand fan, ceiling fan, table fan, exhaust fan, and so on. This is the only ‘peculiar’ issue I have with him (for the moment anyway). What does all this mean? Should I be concerned? Should I do something about it? If so, what?!”



Rituals and obsessions are one of the hallmarks of High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS). In order to cope with the anxieties and stresses about the chaotic world around them, these children often obsess and ritualize their behaviors to comfort themselves. While some 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.

Some kids with HFA develop a resistance to (or fear of) change, that then involves being rigid in their approach to their environment. Insistence on sameness, routines and rituals begin. For example, certain items must be placed in particular places and not moved, certain routes must be followed to and from familiar places, objects may be stacked or lined up in a repetitive manner, or particular silverware and plates must be used - or the youngster refuses to eat or drink.
 
==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Confusion about coping in a world that is overwhelming influences this behavior, so the youngster with HFA responds to this uncertainty by being in control of their immediate environment, the objects in that environment, and the people in it. Repetitive motor mannerisms may occur when autistic kids are excited, anxious, or worried. For others, sensory sensitivities and the physical enjoyment may drive repetitive jumping, arm flapping, twiddling of fingers in front of their eyes, and covering ears and eyes with their hands.

The memory of a youngster with HFA is no better than that of “typical” children, but the huge collection of facts he knows (in this case, about fans) usually represents the amount of time and effort that has gone into accumulating knowledge on the subject to the exclusion of much else. The obsessions are not necessarily characterized by memorization of data alone.

The term “systemizing” applies to the “fascination with data” that has inherent networks (e.g., maps, weather patterns, airline schedules, etc.). Although it is commonly thought that obsessions can be strengths that can be utilized in the educational process, these obsessions can interfere significantly with other important daily functions. Children with HFA are more interested in systems that can be described as “folk physics” (i.e., an interest in how things work) versus “folk psychology” (i.e., an interest in how people work).

Repetitive behaviors and mannerisms in HFA children is a somewhat neglected area of research. In the past, these behaviors were associated with lower levels of functioning, because repetitive motor mannerisms are also seen in kids with intellectual disability who do not have an autism spectrum disorder. These behaviors were also thought to increase during the preschool years. There is now some evidence that repetitive motor mannerisms develop differently to “insistence on sameness,” and these behaviors follow different paths over time.

Restricted and repetitive behaviors show different patterns of stability in HFA kids based partly on the ‘subtype’ they belong to. Young kids with low NVIQ (i.e., non-verbal IQ) scores often have persistent motor mannerisms. However, these behaviors often improve in kids with higher nonverbal IQ scores. Many autistic kids who do not have “insistence-on-sameness behaviors” at a young age acquire them as they got older, and some who had these behaviors sometimes loss them.

Obsessions aren't always so bad, especially if they have some educational or healthful value. But, when mixed with the mental makeup of a child on the autism spectrum, problems may arise. Kids with HFA and AS have trouble with social and emotional development and understanding the nonverbal cues in a conversation. While they are more than happy to start discussing their subject of obsession to another person, they won’t notice whether or not the other person is interested.  They may not get the hint of a person's disinterest or lack of time to talk. They may instead proceed to follow another person around continuing to talk on and on about their area of fascination. They may go right up to someone else already engaged in conversation and interrupt them to begin associating their topic of interest with their obsession, or they may take over a conversation and talk endlessly not leaving much time or room for any feedback from the other person.

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

Kids with HFA and AS may become so obsessed with a particular item, toy, game, or subject, that they may push friends away unknowingly. They may leave little time for anything else, thus homework and chore assignments often suffer. Also, they may become too easily distracted, always thinking back to their obsession and unable to stay on task.

Examples of obsessive, ritualistic behaviors include:
  • cleaning rituals
  • compulsion to make lists and/or schedules
  • counting rituals
  • feelings of excessive doubt and caution
  • hoarding and collecting things
  • obsessive need for cleanliness
  • ordering or arranging objects
  • perfectionism (that may sometimes interfere with task-completion)
  • preoccupation with order and organization
  • preoccupation with remembering and paying attention to minute details and facts
  • repeating rituals (e.g., going in and out of doorways, needing to move through spaces in a special way, rereading, erasing, rewriting)
  • rigid following of rules and regulations
  • rigidity or inflexibility of beliefs
  • rituals to prevent harming self or others
  • rituals to undo contact with a "contaminated" person or object
  • stubbornness
  • touching rituals
  • unreasonable insistence that others submit to his way of doing things



How parents can deal with rituals and obsessions in their HFA:

1. Promote social skills— A youngster with HFA does not learn the social norms and common sense ideas the same way “typical” kids do. He may never completely understand the reasons why things matter socially. He may not see any reason why he shouldn't devote all his time to his one major fascination. Moms and dads can take consideration for their child’s passion, but also help him become a more socially rounded person. It is important, however, if a child fixates on a particularly bad habit or inappropriate subject matter, that the parent put an end to it immediately.

2. Choose battles wisely— Breaking an obsession or ritual is like running a war campaign. If not planned wisely, or if parents attempt to fight on many fronts, they are guaranteed to fail. Not only is it time consuming and tiring, it means the parent can't devote 100% to each particular area. So, for example, if you have a youngster with (1) a game obsession, (2) a phobia of brushing his teeth, AND (3) bedtime troubles, choose only one to deal with. Deal with the worst problem first!

3. Consider multiple therapies— Many children can do well with behavioral therapy alone, while others will need a combination of behavioral therapy and medication. Therapy can help your youngster and family learn strategies to manage the ebb and flow of symptoms, while medication often can reduce the impulse to perform rituals. Behavioral therapy, also known as cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy (CBT), helps children learn to change thoughts and feelings by first changing behavior. It involves gradually exposing children to their fears, with the agreement that they will not perform rituals, to help them recognize that their anxiety will eventually decrease, and that no disastrous outcome will occur.
 
==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

4. Limit special interests— Moms and dads need to take care to allow their HFA youngster to be passionate about certain subjects, but to not let it entirely rule his life. If, for example, he is overly obsessed with playing video games, it is appropriate to give him some time to play, but the time should be limited. Even if the subject of fascination is reading books or doing science experiments, it is still important that time be given to other subjects, or just to get out to get some exercise.

5. Use the “special interest” as a learning tool— Moms and dads should take some time (emphasis on “some”) to listen to their child as he talks about his special interest, and even learn about what is so fascinating. For example, a parent who will take the extra initiative to go visit a planetarium for their child interested in space, or take a trip to a dinosaur museum for the child obsessed with dinosaurs, will give their child the extra support and assurance he needs.

6. Weigh the pros and cons— Parents should ask themselves the questions “How much of a problem is it?” …and “Who for?” The answer is often that these behaviors are a problem for parents and teachers rather than the youngster himself (who is very happy to be preoccupied with his favorite activity). Thus, it is unlikely that the youngster will want to change his behavior. The rules of thumb when making decisions about whether or not to intervene or change routines and rituals are to ask yourself the following:  Does the behavior endanger the youngster or others? Does the behavior increase the likelihood of social rejection or isolation? Does the behavior interfere with or preclude participation in other enjoyable activities and an education program? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” then an intervention is highly recommended.

7. Find the right therapist— Repetitive rituals and routines can sometimes worsen if it's not treated in a consistent, logical and supportive manner. So, it's important to find a therapist who has training and experience in treating this issue. Just talking about the rituals and fears has not been shown to help repetitive rituals, and may actually make it worse by reinforcing the fears and prompting extra rituals. Family support and cooperation also go a long way toward helping a youngster cope with repetitive rituals.

8. Teach self-talk methods— Some treatment plans involve having the youngster "bossing back" the repetitive rituals, giving it a nasty nickname, and visualizing it as something he can control. Over time, the anxiety provoked by certain unwanted stimuli in the environment and the urge to perform rituals gradually disappear. The youngster also gains confidence that he can "fight" repetitive rituals.

9. Remain calm— When tackling any problem with your youngster, it's always best to remain calm at all times. “Special needs” children will feed off the parent’s 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.

10. Provide predictability— If your HFA youngster has trouble managing his mood and behavior when changes in his daily routine occur, try to provide him with as much predictability as possible. This can be accomplished by creating a highly structured environment where daily tasks take place in a certain order, and things are physically in order. For example, (a) warning your child ahead of time of upcoming changes in order to help prevent upset, or minimize it; (b) providing lists, charts and calendars on the wall to help your youngster see what will happen each day; and (c) using bulletin boards with individual cards for each task that you can move around with pins, calendars you make on your computer, or dry-erase boards that will make it easy for you to post the changes without having to recreate the list every time there is a change.

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

While many young people with an autism spectrum disorder display inflexibility and rigidity, sometimes the symptoms are extreme and may warrant an additional diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). If your child’s obsessions negatively affect daily functioning (i.e., interferes with school work or personal hygiene, compromises social interactions, produces a sedentary lifestyle, etc.), then consider seeking advice from a professional who is an expert in autism spectrum disorders.

So, when is a “special interest” simply a “special interest,” and when is it legitimate OCD?


OCD is a chronic illness, a type of anxiety disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior. Unlike other anxiety disorders, the youngster knows that such thoughts and behaviors are irrational and silly, but can’t prevent himself from having them.

With OCD, there are obsessions. Obsessions are defined as “distressing ideas, images or impulses that repeatedly intrude into the child’s awareness.” These thoughts are typically experienced as inappropriate, anxiety-arousing, and contrary to the child’s will or desires. Common obsessions include (a) the need to have things “just so”; (b) the need to tell, ask, or confess; (c) contamination (e.g., fear of germs, dirt, etc.); (d) excessive religious or moral doubt; (e) forbidden thoughts; (f) imagining having harmed self or others; (g) imagining losing control of aggressive urges; and (h) intrusive sexual thoughts or urges.

However, obsessions are not the only telltale sign for OCD. Another symptom of OCD is compulsions. Compulsions are "repetitive behaviors or rituals that the youngster performs to counteract the anxiety and distress produced by obsessive thoughts." Common compulsions include checking, counting, hoarding, ordering/arranging, praying, repeating, touching and washing.
 
==> Parenting System that Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Some of these compulsions are easily witnessed, but this is not always true. Not all compulsions are obvious; many are mental processes (e.g., counting, praying) and harder – if not impossible – to notice. Typically, the compulsions correspond to the obsessions. For example, (a) aggressive, sexual, religious and somatic anxieties result in checking; (b) an obsession with hoarding leads to collecting; (c) fears of contamination are accompanied by hand washing and cleaning; and (d) the need for symmetry produces ordering, arranging, counting and repeating rituals.

If your HFA youngster really has OCD, he will recognize that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable – he knows that what he is doing makes no sense. Many people who developed OCD did so as a child, and report knowing that there was something different (or wrong) about them in comparison to other kids.

Bottom line: If you have your child tested for OCD, and the professional has ruled that out, then you can "rule in" the fact that your child's "obsession" is likely to be a temporary phenomenon.

More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 



 COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said… It will change. Unless he's going to stick his fingers in it I would worry to much. My son is now 15. His obsessions changed, I find that with are kids you really need to pick and choose you battles.
•    Anonymous said… It's multi-sensory. That's so interesting. I love fans too and used to think it was so much fun to talk into them!
•    Anonymous said… My 12 year old son has been obsessed with Apple products, cars and now his new obsession is music. Chances are his interest will change and in the meantime he is learning. My sons obsession with music has lead to a desire to learn the guitar.
•    Anonymous said… My son has a similar "obsession" but his collections are small electrical that he takes apart and puts back together and most recently rubiks cubes. I love it. Sounds silly maybe but I love watching him focus so intensely. He lines up his rubiks cubes also and plays with them one at a time. He can solve every one of them and it just amazes me the way his brain works.
•    Anonymous said… My son has been obsessed with fire alarms for several years. It began after a fire drill at his preschool and I'm guessing its his way to cope with the fear.
•    Anonymous said… my son too- how good it feels to know there is another boy out there that is the same- my son is 13 and collects them and knows all about them and even has his own fire alarm panels, alarm and strobes!
•    Anonymous said… Oliver is 6 and has a growing collection as well  🙂 I had no idea there were so many different kinds and systems. We have friends in the fire department who are arranging for him to go on one of their inspections.
•    Anonymous said… With my grandson, we went through Thomas and all things train, weather/storms, and now as a teen he's settled on WWll and history. These things change over time.
•    Anonymous said… Wow I had almost forgotten about my AS daughter's similar obsession with fans! Good article.
•    Anonymous said… Your son has a creative and scientific mind- he may change his interests but will likely still only ever like similar electrical items. My son started off with plugs and cables and taking things apart when he was 3. he is now 13 and has collections of all kinds of things electrical and has enough knowledge to go into the electrical business now. Encourage it, don't take it away, just be sure to set limits as it does take over. Objects are as important to him as you are, you might not like that, but it will be part of his life and you have to respect it too. Best wishes.
*   Bev said... Thank you so much for sharing these experiences. My grandson is 2 years 6 months now and has been obsessed with fans since he was about 6 months old..... He's so different to other toddlers, so advanced - his intellect and vocabulary is on another level and he is just brilliant and observant, and yet we worry about the social negativities associated with As. To us he is incredibly special and wonderful, but the world can be so cruel. Thank you all very much for sharing about your unique children too, it helps to know that my grandson isn't alone in being different. 
 
Post your comment below…

Obsessions in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"Why is my 6-year-old son (high functioning autistic) so engrossed in Minecraft, and how can I tell if it is an unhealthy obsession rather than just a fun time activity for him?"

The intensity and duration of the child’s interest in a particular topic, object or collection is what determines whether or not it has become an “obsession.” Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) will often learn a lot about a thing they are obsessed with, be intensely interested in it for a long time, and feel strongly about it. There are several reasons why these kids may develop obsessions, including:
  • they can get a lot of enjoyment from learning about a particular subject or gathering together items of interest
  • those who find social interaction difficult might use their special interests as a way to start conversations and feel more self-assured in social situations
  • obsessions may help children cope with the uncertainties of daily life
  • obsessions may help children to relax and feel happy
  • obsessions may provide order and predictability
  • obsessions may provide structure
 
Many children with Aspergers and HFA have sensory sensitivity and may be over- or under-sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch. This sensitivity can also affect children’s balance ('vestibular' system) and body awareness ('proprioception' or knowing where our bodies are and how they are moving). Obsessions and repetitive behavior can be a way to deal with sensory sensitivity.



Although repetitive behavior varies from child to child, the reasons behind it may be the same:
  •  a source of enjoyment and occupation
  • a way to deal with stress and anxiety and to block out uncertainty
  • an attempt to gain sensory input (e.g., rocking may be a way to stimulate the balance or vestibular system; hand-flapping may provide visual stimulation)
  • an attempt to reduce sensory input (e.g., focusing on one particular sound may reduce the impact of a loud, distressing environment; this may particularly be seen in social situations)
  • some adolescents may revert to old repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand-flapping, rocking if anxious or stressed)

Reality to a child on the autism spectrum is a confusing, interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights. Set routines, times, particular routes and rituals all help to get order into an unbearably chaotic life. Trying to keep everything the same reduces some of the terrible fear.

Many children with the disorder have a strong preference for routines and sameness. Routines often serve an important function. For example, they introduce order, structure and predictability and help to manage anxiety. Because of this, it can be very distressing if the child’s routine is disrupted.
 
Sometimes minor changes (e.g., moving between two activities) can be distressing. For others, big events (e.g., holidays, birthdays, Christmas, etc.), which create change and upheaval, can cause anxiety. Unexpected changes are often most difficult to deal with. 

Some children on the spectrum have daily timetables so that they know what is going to happen, when. However, the need for routine and sameness can extend beyond this. You might see:
  •  a need for routine around daily activities such as meals or bedtime
  • changes to the physical environment (e.g., the layout of furniture in a room), or the presence of new people or absence of familiar ones, being difficult to manage
  • compulsive behavior (e.g., the child might be constantly washing his hands or checking locks)
  • rigid preferences about things like food (e.g., only eating food of a certain color), clothing (e.g., only wearing clothes made from specific fabrics), or everyday objects (e.g., only using particular types of soap or brands of toilet paper)
  • routines can become almost ritualistic in nature, having to be followed precisely with attention paid to the tiniest details
  • verbal rituals, with a child repeatedly asking the same questions and needing a specific answer

Children's dependence on routines can increase during times of change, stress or illness and may even become more dominant or elaborate at these times. Dependence on routines may increase or re-emerge during adolescence. Routines can have a profound effect on the lives of children with Aspergers and HFA, their family and care-takers, but it is possible to make a child less reliant on them.

Obsessions versus Hobbies—

Most of us have hobbies, interests and a preference for routine. Here are five questions that can help us distinguish between hobbies/interests versus obsessive behavior:
  1. Can the child stop the behavior independently?
  2. Does the child appear distressed when engaging in the behavior or does the child give signs that he is trying to resist the behavior (e.g., someone who flaps their hands may try to sit on their hands to prevent the behavior)?
  3. Is the behavior causing significant disruption to others (e.g., moms and dads, care-takers, peers, siblings)?
  4. Is the behavior impacting on the child’s learning?
  5. Is the behavior limiting the child’s social opportunities?

If your answer to any of the questions above is 'yes', it may be appropriate to look at ways of helping your youngster to reduce obsessive or repetitive behavior. Think about whether, by setting limits around a particular behavior, you are really helping your youngster. Is the behavior actually a real issue for him, for you, or for other people in his life?

Focus on developing skills that your youngster can use instead of repetitive or obsessive behavior. Try to understand the function of the behavior, then make small, gradual changes and be consistent. Here are some ideas to help you:

1.     Coping with change: If unexpected changes occur, and your youngster is finding it hard to cope, try re-directing them to a calming activity, or encourage them to use simple relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises. You could use praise or other rewards for coping with change. In the long term, this may help make your youngster more tolerant of change.

2.     Explore alternative activities: One way to interrupt repetitive behavior is for a youngster to do another enjoyable activity that has the same function (e.g., a youngster who flicks their fingers for visual stimulation could play with a kaleidoscope or a bubble gun;  a youngster who puts inedible objects in their mouth could have a bag with edible alternatives that provide similar sensory experiences such as raw pasta or spaghetti, or seeds and nuts; a youngster who rocks to get sensory input could go on a swing; a youngster who smears their poop could have a bag with play dough in it to use instead).

3.     Intervene early: Repetitive behaviors, obsessions and routines are generally harder to change the longer they continue.  A behavior that is perhaps acceptable in a young child may not be appropriate as they get older and may, by this time, be very difficult to change. For example, a youngster who is obsessed with shoes and tries to touch people's feet might not present too much of a problem, but a teenager doing the same thing - especially to strangers - will obviously be problematic. It will help if you can set limits around repetitive behaviors from an early age and look out for any new behavior that emerges as your youngster gets older. Making your youngster's environment and surroundings more structured can help them to feel more in control and may reduce anxiety. If anxiety is reduced, the need to engage in repetitive behavior and adhere strictly to routines may also, in time, be reduced.

4.     Pre-planning: You may be able to help your youngster to cope with change, or activities and events that could be stressful, by planning for them in advance.  Change is unavoidable, but it can be really difficult for many children with the disorder. You may not always be able to prepare for change a long time in advance, but try to give your youngster as much warning as possible. Gradually introducing the idea of a new person, place, object or circumstance can help them cope with the change. Try to talk about the event or activity when everyone is fairly relaxed and happy.  Presenting information visually can be a good idea, as your youngster can refer to it as often as they need to. You could try using calendars so that your youngster knows how many days it is before an event (e.g., Christmas) happens. This can help them feel prepared. 
 
 
Your youngster might also like to see photos of places or objects in advance so they know what to expect (e.g., a picture of their Christmas present) or a photo of the building they are going to for an appointment. Using social stories could also be helpful. These are short stories, often with pictures, that describe different situations and activities so that children with Aspergers and HFA know what to expect.  Pre-planning can also involve structuring the environment. 
 
For example, a student with HFA might go to use a computer in the library at lunchtime if they find being in the playground too stressful – or if a youngster has sensory sensitivity, minimizing the impact of things like noises (e.g., school bells) or smells (e.g., perfumes or soaps) can help them to cope better.  It is possible that more structured environments may reduce boredom, which is sometimes a reason for repetitive behavior. You might prepare a range of enjoyable or calming activities to re-direct your youngster to if they seem bored or stressed.

5.     Self-regulation skills: Self-regulation skills are any activities that help your youngster to manage their own behavior and emotions.  If you can help your youngster to identify when they are feeling stressed or anxious and use an alternative response (e.g., relaxation techniques or asking for help), you may, in time, see less repetitive or ritualistic behavior.  Research has also shown that increasing a child’s insight into an obsession or repetitive behavior can significantly reduce it. This includes children with quite severe learning disabilities.

6.     Set limits: Setting limits around repetitive behavior, routines and obsessions is an important and often essential way to minimize their impact on your youngster's life. You could set limits in a number of ways depending which behavior concerns you. For example, you can ration objects (e.g., can only carry five pebbles in pocket), ration places (e.g., spinning only allowed at home), and ration times (e.g., can watch his favorite DVD for 20 minutes twice a day). Everyone involved with your youngster should take the same consistent approach to setting limits. Have clear rules about where, when, with whom and for how long a behavior is allowed. You could present this information visually, with a focus on when your youngster can engage in the behavior. This may help if they feel anxious about restricted access to an obsession or activity.

7.     Social skills training: Teaching social skills (e.g.,  how to start and end a conversation, appropriate things to talk about, how to read other people's 'cues') may mean someone with Aspergers or HFA feels more confident and doesn't need to rely on talking about particular subjects (e.g., a special interest). 

8.     Understand the function of the behavior: Obsessions, repetitive behavior and routines are frequently important and meaningful to children on the  spectrum, helping them to manage anxiety and have some measure of control over a confusing and chaotic world. For others, the behavior may help with sensory issues. Take a careful look at what you think might be causing the behavior and what purpose it might serve.  For example, does your youngster always seem to find a particular environment (e.g., a classroom) hard to cope with? Is it too bright? Could you turn off strip lighting and rely on natural daylight instead?

9.     Visual supports: Visual supports (e.g., photos, symbols, written lists or physical objects) can really help children with Aspergers and HFA.  A visual timetable could help your youngster to see what is going to happen next. This makes things more predictable and helps them to feel prepared. It may lessen their reliance on strict routines of their own making. 
 
 
Visual supports like egg timers or 'time timers' can help some children with an autism spectrum disorder to understand abstract concepts like time, plan what they need to do, when in order to complete a task, and understand the concept of waiting.  Visual supports can also be useful if your youngster asks the same question repeatedly. One parent wrote down the answer to a question, put it on the fridge and, whenever her son asked the question, told him to go to the fridge and find the answer. For kids who can't read, you could use pictures instead of words.

10.   Make use of obsessions: Obsessions can be used to increase your youngster's skills and areas of interest, promote self-esteem, and encourage socializing. You may find you can look at a particular obsession and think of ways to develop it into something more functional. Here are some examples:
  • A child with a special interest in historical dates could join a history group and meet others with similar interests.
  • A child with knowledge of sport or music would be a valuable member of a pub quiz team.
  • A strong preference for ordering or lining up objects could be developed into housework skills.
  • An interest in particular sounds could be channeled into learning a musical instrument.
  • An obsession with rubbish could be used to develop an interest in recycling, and the youngster given the job of sorting items for recycling.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

 

COMMENTS:

•    Anonymous said… Mine is 17 and still obsessed. I think we have every game, plus the cards, and watch the cartoon. HELP!
•    Anonymous said… My 14 year old- obsessed with Pokemon. Sets him noticeably apart from his peers, and is definitely an issue. frown emoticon
•    Anonymous said… my 25 year old son with ASPERGERS is obsessed with stunt riding.. he is getting good at it. came 12th in the british stunt championships last year. wink emoticon
•    Anonymous said… My Aspie son was too at that age. Rest assured, he will move on to other things but with just as much obsession! Whatever makes them happy.....
•    Anonymous said… My lad of 21 now he has aspergers.was mad on pokemon and digimon.
•    Anonymous said… My son is obsessed with this too!
•    Anonymous said… My teenager( Aspergers) at age 6 was obessed with Spongebob. We would turn the Television and he could repeat the episode without pictures or words. I think that they just love different things and have a likeable interest. My normal 6 year old is obsessed with Sonic. He is at the top of his class and this is the 2nd 9weeks weeks of report cards. He wants every character. At least it is a good thing and not something bad.
•    Anonymous said… Pokemon was created by an autistic man, so I can see why they can become an interest.
•    Anonymous said… Sounds familiar our 12 year old loves pokemon magic the gathering mine craft and Spider-Man
•    Anonymous said… This is an excellent article! Our 7-year-old grandson is obsessed with Minecraft. We have to curb his enthusiasm for discussing Minecraft every single minute of the day, or we would go completely batty! We tell him that although he loves Minecraft, not everyone shares his interest, and it's important to find out what other people's interests are, and not to monopolize conversations talking about his interests only.
•    Anonymous said… When our Aspergers son got into Pokemon it was actually a HUGE help for him socially. Since all the kids were into it, he actually had common interests and they could all talk Pokemon. We saw a lot of social growth during this phase so the obsession was actually very healthy for him.

Post your comment below…

Aspergers Children: Obsessions and Rituals

Question

My Aspergers son spends all his time collecting and ruminating over his baseball cards. That’s ALL he talks about, all day long: baseball trivia (names of teams, names of players, player stats, and on and on...). Is this Aspergers related behavior, and how can I get him to broaden his interests?


Answer

Rituals and obsessions are one of the hallmarks of Aspergers (high functioning autism) and other Autistic Spectrum Disorders. In order to cope with the anxieties and stresses about the chaotic world around them, children often obsess and ritualize their behaviors to comfort themselves. While some children 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.

Based on data from psychological testing, it is likely that the memory of the youngster with Aspergers may not be better than others in general, but the huge collection of facts he knows probably represents the amount of time and effort that has gone into accumulating knowledge on one or two subjects to the exclusion of much else. The obsessions are not necessarily characterized by memorization of data alone.

The term “systemizing” applies to the “fascination with data” that has inherent networks, such as maps, weather patterns, or airline schedules. Although it is commonly thought that obsessions can be strengths that can be utilized in the educational process, these obsessions can interfere significantly with other important daily functions. Children with Aspergers are more interested in systems that can be described as “folk physics” (an interest in how things work) versus “folk psychology” (an interest in how people work).

Obsessions aren't always so bad, especially if they are some of educational or healthful value, but when mixed with the mental makeup of a child with Aspergers, problems may arise. Kids with Aspergers have trouble with social and emotional development and understanding the nonverbal cues in a conversation. While they are more than happy to start discussing their subject of obsession to another person, they will most likely not notice if the other person is not interested.

They may not get the hint of a person's disinterest or lack of time to talk. They may instead proceed to follow another person around continuing to talk on and on about their area of fascination. They may go right up to someone else already engaged in conversation and interrupt them to begin associating their topic of interest with their obsession. They may take over a conversation and talk endlessly not leaving much time or room for any feedback from another.

Kids with Aspergers may become so obsessed with a particular toy, game, or subject, that they may push friends away unknowingly. They may leave little time for anything else, and homework may suffer. They may become too easily distracted always thinking back to their obsession and not be able to stay on task.

Moms and dads need to take care to allow their kids to be passionate about certain subjects but to not let it entirely rule their lives. If a child is overly obsessed with playing video games of play on the computer, it is OK to give them some time to play, but the time should be limited. Even if the subject of fascination is reading books or doing science experiments, it is still important that time be given to other subjects or just to get out to get some exercise.

Kids with Aspergers do not learn the social norms and common sense ideas the same way another child does. They may never completely understand the reasons why things matter socially. They may not see any reason why they shouldn't devote all their time to their one major fascination. Moms and dads can take consideration for their passion, but also help them become a more socially rounded person. It is important, however, if a child fixates on a particularly bad habit or inappropriate subject matter, that a parent put an end to it immediately.

Even with Aspergers, a child will eventually notice when a parent is not interested and it may become hurtful. Moms and dads should take the time to listen to their child and even learn about what is so fascinating. A parent who will take the extra initiative to go visit a planetarium for their child interested in space, or take a trip to a dinosaur museum for the child obsessed with dinosaurs, will give their child the extra support and assurance they need.

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 (1) a game obsession, (2) a phobia of brushing his teeth, and (3) bedtime troubles, choose only one to deal with. Deal with the worst problem first!

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


More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


 COMMENTS:
    •    Anonymous said... With time obsessions change, evolve...as long as it doesn't interfere with their studies.
    •    Anonymous said... Definitely Asperger's related!! My son used to categorize his trains when he was little by their "usefulness" as he put it. The we moved on to Legos and them needing to be categorized by shape, size, color, etc. Your son will be fine. There is nothing wrong with fixating on one subject or area within a subject...he can't help it. Throughout his life he will go on to other things, on his own time. I myself had a baseball card fixation when I was younger, then I moved on, then ended up coming back, re-sorting previous collections, staring a new one, etc..
    •    Anonymous said... Don't bother. My son now 21 and in college still crazy about trains. But think of their interest in a broader spectrum is easier. I got Eurail maps for him and he learned geography and history. Be age appropriate but go for it. Baseball is worldwide. There are teams in many other counties. Japan is one.
    •    Anonymous said... I never really felt the need to broaden my sons interests. He has similar behaviors with other things that he perseverates on and I think it is such a unique characteristic to him and other children like him that I try to support it and encourage him to learn in a variety of different ways. I have always made sure that I expose him to a variety of different things and interests and I've always given him many different flavors in life such as different sports different TV shows and now different YouTube channels but in the end I just encourage his interactions with what he enjoys. Because my son would focus on one thing I would use that to my advantage and use that one thing to show him many different avenues with sports you can use statistics for math you can use teamwork for socialization you can use whatever it is that they focus on as your grounds and topic for teaching them important things in life. In the end what really matters I think it's happiness health and being able to function in society. We all have a different purpose in our life and whether your purpose is baseball, teaching or just inspiring others I really try to provide my son with as much support for his purpose as he needs.
    •    Anonymous said... Most children with Aspergers also have OCD (like my son) and the have something that they just cling to. For my son it's the video games Skylanders. The best thing you can do is try to introduce him to as many different things as possible. Now that doesn't guarantee that he won't revert back to the game cards but it will plant seeds for other options.
    •    Anonymous said... My daughter obsessively studies dogs, if we are out and she sees a dog she will ask what breed it is, of course that is not enough, she wants to know its weight, coat type, how much walking it does, how fast it runs, what it was used for in history, what health issues the breed has.... It goes on and on!!... and on.
    I brought her a note book, and a dog encyclopedia, she can draw a picture and write 5 facts about the particular breed. Works very well.
    •    Anonymous said... My son has his obsession with fish tanks. He's now scuba certified and taught himself to maintain a saltwater reef. Use the obsessions as a life lesson and let them run with it. It's a great thing to watch a child so tuned in and focused.
    *   Anonymous said... There are a number of issues to overcome....misdiagnosis, wrong medications and side effects, judgemental people in society and of course how the rest of the family is effected!! On top of all this, theres not enough support with regards to assessments and ongoing therapy, especially if your not wealthy!
    *   Anonymous said... Can you tell me what medication your referring to which can assist with obsessive behavior?
    *   Anonymous said... My son has extreme OCD with his Aspergers. Doctors want me to put him on Prozac , which I am etremely hesitant to do. Does anyone else have experience with this?

    Post your comment below...

    Does Your "Obsessive" Child on the Autism Spectrum Have OCD?

    "My child (with HFA) does obsess about certain things, but how can I tell if he has full-blown obsessive compulsive disorder?"

    Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is described as a condition characterized by recurring, obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. Obsessive thoughts are ideas, pictures of thoughts or impulses that repeatedly enter the mind, while compulsive actions and rituals are behaviors that are repeated over and over again.

    The obsessions seen in kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) differ from the youngster with obsessive compulsive disorder. The youngster with AS or HFA does not have the ability to put things into perspective. Although terminology implies that certain behaviors in AS and HFA are similar to those seen in obsessive compulsive disorder, these behaviors fail to meet the definition of either obsessions or compulsions.

    They are not invasive, undesired or annoying, which is a prerequisite for a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder. The reason for this is that children with severe autism are unable to contemplate or talk about their own mental states. However, obsessive compulsive disorder does appear to coincide with AS and HFA.



    Szatmari et al (1989) studied a group of 24 kids. He discovered that 8% of the kids with AS and 10% of the kids with HFA were diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. This compared to 5% of the control group of kids without autism, but with social problems. Thomsen el at (1994) found that in the kids he studied, obsessive compulsive disorder continued into adulthood.

    AS and HFA kids with obsessive compulsive disorder:
    • become preoccupied with whether something could be harmful, dangerous, wrong, or dirty
    • experience a need for symmetry, order and precision
    • experience intrusive sounds or thoughts
    • feel like they must perform the task or dwell on the thought
    • feel strong urges to do certain things repeatedly (i.e., rituals or compulsions) in order to banish the scary thoughts or ward off something dreaded
    • have a difficult time explaining a reason for their rituals
    • have a fear of contamination
    • have a fear of illness or harm coming to oneself or relatives
    • have a strong belief in lucky and unlucky numbers
    • have an "overactive alarm system" 
    • have upsetting or scary thoughts or images that pop into their minds that are hard to shake
    • may have preoccupation with body wastes
    • may have religious obsessions
    • may have sexual or aggressive thoughts
    • realize that they really don't have to repeat the behaviors, but the anxiety can be so great that they feel that repetition is "required" to neutralize uncomfortable emotions
    • try to relieve anxiety via the use of obsessions and compulsions
    • want to feel absolutely certain that something bad won't happen 
    • worry about losing things, sometimes feeling the need to collect these items, even though the items may seem useless to others
    • worry about things not being "in order" or "just right"

    Compulsions that are most common include: 
    • cleaning rituals
    • counting rituals
    • grooming rituals
    • hoarding and collecting things of no apparent value
    • ordering or arranging objects
    • repeatedly checking homework
    • repeating rituals (e.g., going in and out of doorways, needing to move through spaces in a special way, rereading, erasing, rewriting, etc.)
    • rituals to prevent harming self or others
    • rituals to undo contact with a "contaminated" person or object
    • touching rituals

    Moms and dads can look for the following possible signs of obsessive compulsive disorder in their AS or HFA child:
     
    • a continual fear that something terrible will happen to someone
    • a dramatic increase in laundry
    • a persistent fear of illness
    • a sudden drop in test grades
    • an exceptionally long amount of time spent getting ready for bed
    • constant checks of the health of family members
    •  high, unexplained utility bills
    • holes erased through test papers and homework
    • raw, chapped hands from constant washing
    • reluctance to leave the house
    • requests for family members to repeat strange phrases or keep answering the same question
    • unproductive hours spent doing homework
    • unusually high rate of soap or paper towel usage

     ==> "OCD: What To Look For" - Excerpt from Mark Hutten's Lectures


    If your AS or HFA youngster shows signs of obsessive compulsive disorder, talk to your physician. In screening for obsessive compulsive disorder, the physician will ask your youngster about obsessions and compulsions in language that he or she will understand, for example:
    • Are there things you have to do before you go to bed?
    • Do things have to be "just so"?
    • Do you collect things that others might throw away (e.g., hair, fingernail clippings, dead batteries, etc.)?
    • Do you count to a certain number or do things a certain number of times?
    • Do you have to check things over and over again?
    • Do you have to wash your hands a lot?
    • Do you have worries, thoughts, images, feelings, or ideas that bother you?

    Treatment—

    The most successful treatments for AS and HFA children with obsessive compulsive disorder are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. CBT helps these “special needs” children learn to change thoughts and feelings by first changing behavior. The therapy involves gradually exposing children to their fears, with the agreement that they will not perform rituals in order to help them recognize that their anxiety will eventually decrease and that no disastrous outcome will occur.

    Just talking about the rituals and fears have not been shown to help obsessive compulsive disorder, and may actually make it worse by reinforcing the fears and prompting extra rituals. Thus, for CBT to be successful, it must be combined with “response prevention,” in which the youngster's rituals or avoidance behaviors are blocked (e.g., a youngster who fears dirt must not only stay in contact with the dirty object, but also must not be allowed to wash repeatedly).

    Many children can do well with CBT alone, while others will need therapy and medication. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) often can reduce the impulse to perform rituals. Once a youngster is in treatment, it's important for moms and dads to participate, to learn more about obsessive compulsive disorder, and to modify expectations and be supportive.

    AS and HFA kids with obsessive compulsive disorder get better at different rates, so parents should try to avoid any day-to-day comparisons and recognize and praise any small improvements. Also, try to keep family routines as normal as possible.



    More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

    ==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

    ==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

    ==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

    ==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

    ==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

    ==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


    ==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

    Kids on the Autism Spectrum: Restricted & Repetitive Interests

    “We are new to the world of autism spectrum disorders. Is it common for a child with high functioning autism to spend all (or certainly most) of his time doing only one thing? Our 5-year-old son would spend 24-hours-a-day telling you about dinosaurs if he didn’t have to sleep. Should we just go along with the program, or attempt to curb this appetite for dinosaur trivia?”

    I would recommend against curbing the appetite – unless it gets in the way of fulfilling his responsibilities (e.g., homework, chores, etc.). Parents and teachers can use a child’s special interest to their advantage in multiple ways.

    Kids with High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.

    Pursuit of specific and narrow areas of interest is one of the most striking features of High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers. These children may collect volumes of detailed information on a relatively narrow topic (e.g., dinosaurs, trains, deep fat fryers etc.) without necessarily having genuine understanding of the broader topic (e.g., the youngster might memorize camera model numbers while caring little about photography). This behavior is usually apparent by grade school, typically age 5 or 6.
     
    ==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Children with High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers latch onto topics and interests that are often considered a hobby by others. However, they develop an intense interest in the subject and may become experts in it. Some obsessions involve physical collections while others are fact-based.

    Some of the common interests that characterize children with High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers include:
    • accumulation of objects or facts and information
    • intense attachment to objects in a collection
    • agitation if the collection is disturbed or moved out of order
    • animals and nature (this often starts with a fascination for dinosaurs and may end up with expert knowledge about animal or insect groups like spiders or snakes)
    • books
    • for boys, card collections like baseball or superheroes
    • for girls, Barbie dolls
    • interest in death and freaks
    • obsession that is accompanied by extreme motivation, attention and ability
    • obsession that is concentrated on to the exclusion of other activities
    • obsessions that dominate the child’s conversation
    • obsessions that dominate the child’s free time
    • public transport systems (e.g., the child may know every station in a subway system or travel around to visit old rail collections)
    • science fiction and fantasy
    • technical and scientific interests (e.g., vehicles, trains, aircraft, ships, volcanoes, astronomy, mathematics, numbers, chemistry, the periodic table, the weather)

    Obsessions play an important role in the daily life of children with High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers. For example:
    • The interest may give them a sense of identity if they are considered to be an expert in the area.
    • The interest is associated with pleasure (e.g., a family trip on a steam train or a visit to a game park).
    • The interest is a form of relaxation. High-Functioning Autism kids thrive on routine, and familiarity and being able to lose themselves in an interest is a stress reliever.
    • Obsessions help them overcome anxiety when the interest is directed at something they fear. By understanding it, they strip it of its ability to “harm.”
    • High-Functioning Autism kids struggle with the unpredictability of life and social interaction, and feel secure within the confines of their special interest.

    While special interests can be beneficial to kids on the spectrum, they can also cause difficulties and become a source of annoyance to those in their social circle. Although these special interests may change from time to time, they typically become more unusual and narrowly focused, and often dominate social interaction so much that the entire family may become immersed.

    Stereotyped and repetitive motor behaviors are also a core part of the diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism and other ASDs (e.g., hand movements, flapping, twisting, complex whole-body movements, etc.). These are typically repeated in longer bursts and look more voluntary or ritualistic than tics, which are usually faster, less rhythmical and less often symmetrical.


    More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
     



    PARENTS' COMMENTS:

    •    Anonymous said...  also sharing his interest will help him 2grow. Social skills r a challenge & u can use his interests 2help him communicate better. Conversations w\other ppl r challenges 4them. Use this & anything u can 2help him.
    •    Anonymous said...  Becci Snead Ellison, thank you!!! That is a great idea!! She usually interrupts dinner time conversations and this is a great way to teach her!!! I so appreciate your input!
    •    Anonymous said...  enjoy him & love him 4who he is! His own unique lil person! He will amaze u!
    •    Anonymous said...  enjoy the interest w\him, build a bond w\him now so u can continue 2know him & learn about him. They will bcome strangers if u dont take time 2know them.
    •    Anonymous said...  Eventually you can expand to. Where they lived, what they ate, what period etc. art projects can revolve around making dioramas, making plaster casts of 'footprints'. You can add writing by creating a biography page for each species with all the info. Take dinos and run with it.
    •    Anonymous said...  Games. It still gives him a connection to his peers but I miss our trips to museums and zoos where he blew everyone away with his knowledge.
    •    Anonymous said...  Give him certain times during the day where he can ONLY talk about dinosaurs (set a timer) When the timer goes off he can only talk about everything else BUT dinosaurs...My youngest was the same way about maps. During his "dino" time help him research, help him read, help him do everything dino related. This way it is limited (to save your sanity) but he still gets the satisfaction of feeding his knowledge
    •    Anonymous said...  Go along with it. It interests him, and you should encourage it. I found before I was diagnosed, people discouraged any interests, which made me not want to get into anything. It'll set him back if discouraged
    •    Anonymous said...  Hi. This is the first time I've posted, but I've been an avid post reader for some time now, sorry, but I totally understand what your all saying. Most of my friends and family don't see it in them at all, but my husband and 2 sons, aged 14 and 11 have high functioning Autism. They each have an amazing gift or talent in something different, and all 3 have high analytical intelligence but lack in emotional/ communication skills.. As for obsessions, My oldest son started with Thomas the Tank Engine. He could name every single engine, carriage, person etc and would quite arrogantly tell you if you got it wrong. Then it was dinosaurs.... He could tell anyone at all (and he would) the name (some of which I can barely pronounce) of just about any dinosaur, where it originated and what it ate....then it was Brazilian Jujitsu.... Then he moved onto, and is still current, the love for Reptiles, not all.. Primarily snakes and some lizards.... BUT He has recently discovered how good he is at Archery... So as long as he continues to take proper responsibility of the 3 snakes and 2 lizards...we will nurture his archery skill... He has his eye on a $400 bow set at the moment. The thing is, is that he's that self disciplined that he will do chores and save his b'day and Xmas gift money up, so he can get it. If only I had the same self control... Lol. My 11 yr old son is an avid book reader. He can read a whole adult sized novel in about 4 hours, and then tell you about in with the most impeccable memory and description. It's almost like a movie was in his head and he can describe it you. He loves animals, particularly dogs and cats, but has no fear... I just hope that a nasty or troubled animal doesn't hurt that naivety one day, although I've tried to tell him, he has like a cat/dog whisperer thing in him. I'm planning on getting him a vet science book... He'll be a vet by the time he's 17 I reckon.... But he is my fragile one to me. He is very naive...but he's also still very young. My ASD boys are amazing, and perfect role model students at school... And I truly believe that they are the next step in evolution.... As for my husband... That's a whole different story... We've had loads of problems since the realisation of it all only 2 years ago after 14 years marriage, But he still is the only man for me and I love him so much. We' re a 'Work in Progress'.... Xxx
    •    Anonymous said...  I've always let my son go with what he feels. Yes, there have been times I had enough and had to say we would have to talk about it later. The interests do change over time and as they age. My son is now 15 and isn't as into 1 thing anymore. They feel very isolated as it is. Having an interest and being excited about it is healthy in my opinion. My son has always been so passionate about certain things throughout the years. It gave him confidence and he was proud of his knowledge.
    •    Anonymous said...  I've had to limit my daughter's time with her obsession. She loves Super Mario Bros for the Wii. She'll play it, has stuffed characters, watches the old TV show on Netflix from the 80's and will watch Youtube videos of other people playing and tips. I do make her alternate it with her other interests and she's only allowed to play the game in 30 min intervals and never first thing in the morning or right before bed. If I don't she gets hyper and can't focus. She'll also dream about it. She literally talks about Mario in her sleep.
    •    Anonymous said...  Just listen Mom , I promise you some day he'll thank you for it!
    •    Anonymous said...  Let him be excited to share. And let him know you are proud of his vast knowledge of dinosaurs. Who knows, he could grow up and be the world's greatest archeologist!!!!!
    •    Anonymous said...  Let him do dinosaurs now. He'll be just as obsessed about the next thing when it comes along.
    •    Anonymous said...  McKenzie, use her love if those subjects to teach her a social skill! You can practice at dinner by giving her an appropriate amount I time to talk about her subject but then giving brother a chance to talk about his day it subject and have your daughter respond with questions or gestures that would be appropriate in any conversation! This is an exercise we learned from ABA and we have fun with it all the time!
    •    Anonymous said...  Mine went from dinosaurs to animals. At school it gave him something to talk about. Most kids love animals. Now at 14 it's video gan
    •    Anonymous said...  My 13 yr old talks about bustin bieber n one direction all the time. She use to talk about school o much I told her no talking about school after 5pm. It took awhile but it works . Now it's music.
    •    Anonymous said...  My 14 year old's obsession is anything from the 1980's. Honestly, I get so tired of listening to his facts because it is an all day thing. I have to tell him that I've had enough for the day and he needs to draw or play his video games...which are also from the 80's. As he has grown his obsessions have been: dinosaurs, Sesame Street, Flags of the world, Mascots for football, LEGOS, Star Wars and now the 80's:)
    •    Anonymous said...  My ltl man moves to a new topic when hes ready. Thomas the tank was approx 4 years!
    •    Anonymous said...  Oh absolutely! I know way more about WWII than most because of my son! This is perfectly typical I our a-typical kiddoes! .
    •    Anonymous said...  Our daughter is 12 and she will spend all her energy and time researching and discussing the Titanic, Helen Keller and now it's Ann Frank. It can get overwhelming for us and her brother to listen to this all the time. But when we ask her to talk about something else she feels hurt and says we just don't want to listen to her . Just not sure what to do sometimes.
    •    Anonymous said...  Perfectly normal. My 12 year old son is still like that. Eventually your son will switch to another subject, and the dinos will disappear in a second flat. Ride the wave. I figure if it makes him happy then I will feed the knowledge to him until he is ready to move on. Because he always does.
    •    Anonymous said...  setting limits r good, 10 mins of dinosaurs, then 5 mins on something else...(4example) give & take of relationships r important 2teach him. Limits but not denial or smothering. Teach him thru his interests! U will learn more about him!!
    •    Anonymous said...  That is very common! We have a Dino lover expert! Autism Speaks is a wonderful that has helped us. Our son is 6. You will really enjoy all the quirks that they have.
    •    Anonymous said...  This is perfectly normal with a child with Asperger's. Be supportive and indulge his curiosity and enthusiasm. Can you use this special interest as a bridge to explore other subjects? Before you know it, his interest in dinosaurs will wane, and he will move on to a new special interest. Also perfectly normal. As for social skills, you may want to coach him that other people may not enjoy talking about dinosaurs as much as he does, but it's OK to like dinosaurs and want to learn all about them. It would be great if he could find a friend who likes dinosaurs as much as he does, so he will feel accepted and have someone who shares his special interest very much.
    •    Anonymous said...  We leave our lil un he will change to sumfin else wen hes ready
    •    Anonymous said...  We moms of aspies need 2stick 2gether! Even when u hear dinosaurs n ur sleep...remember...this is her world shes sharing w/u! U can teach her more about the world she has 2live n also! hang in there! Its tough but soo worth it! 
    *   Anonymous said... Here is an idea that helped us TREMENDOUSLY when our son was severely stuck on topics and could not have a two way conversation.  A STOP WATCH!  Give the child a stop watch and let him push the timer.  He can watch the time tick by or not, but the stop watch does help keep his interest.  He has one minute to tell you whatever he wants to talk about.  At the end of one minute, the stop watch goes to the parent.  The parent then starts the timer and responds back to the child about what he was discussing.  (Child cannot talk during this time.  He has to listen.)  The parent can then change the subject.  At the end of one minute, the child gets the stop watch back. He restarts the timer and he has to comment on what the parent just talked about BEFORE he can talk about what he is stuck on.  If the one with the timer has nothing more to say and the minute isn't up yet, no one can talk until the time is up.  This really helps the child with self-control and stops rattling.  This method saved us after my husband passed and there was no one around to listen except my ears.  My son quickly learned two way conversations.  My family and friends could not get over the fast improvement.  Whenever he wanted to talk about what he was stuck on, or something in his day, he would come to me and say, "I have something really important to tell you," as he handed me the stop watch.  If ti wasn't the best time, I would ask him to wait 15 minutes (or however long it would be before I was available) then he could talk as long as he wanted with the stop watch.  It stopped the all day verbal chattering about nothing.
    •    Anonymous said...  Try to help them find lots of mini obsessions It can help breakup the challenge of the same topic all the time. So important to work with the obsessions and not fight them. They can become your communication lifelines in difficult times.
    •    Anonymous said... Absolutely. My son is 7, and he goes on and on about his "topic du jour.". This is where speech and language pragmatics therapy comes in. Learning the back and forth of conversations, etc.
    •    Anonymous said... and on the bright side......you will learn a lot about dinosaurs.....
    •    Anonymous said... Great insight!!! Makes me understand my nephew now even better.
    •    Anonymous said... I think it is important to also introduce other things so that they develop in other areas. Some form of physical activity, some other toys, and things that may be related but help introduce something else...for example, fiction books about dinosaurs that lead to fiction books on other topics. Or non-fiction books about reptiles.
    •    Anonymous said... If my son could play Roblox 24-7 he would! That's all he wants to do.
    •    Anonymous said... My grand daughter has a huge obsession with Match Box Cars. We have three Aspies in our family.
    •    Anonymous said... my son is aspie and ADHS so it is hard for him to keep on jus one thing he bounces from one to another but always stays with a focus on cars
    •    Anonymous said... My sons is almost 10 and huge into Pokemon. All I hear most days is about Pokemon. I had to set time limits on how often he can play it but he still talks about it all the time. This is his life log obsession because he's been playing it since he was 2.
    •    Anonymous said... Rainbow looms have to be just right and makes them all. 😊
    •    Anonymous said... sounds like a textook Aspie....
    •    Anonymous said... Use his love of dinosaurs to keep him engaged in conversation with you and others. My grandsons will maintain eye contact for longer lengths of time if they are talking about their favorite things.
    •    Anonymous said... Very common with aspies. Both of mine have favorite things they would play with or talk about.
    •    Anonymous said... Yes . Just remembering Thomas the train makes me smile
    •    Anonymous said... yes, that is common. or months or years of one or two preferred activities. Even if he shows massive resistance, its important to make him do other things and set limits on the obsessions.
    •    Anonymous said... You can also use his obsessions to teach other skills, adding and subtracting dinosaurs, dinosaurs in a conversation, etc. 
    •    Anonymous said... My 16 year old aspie spends hours (not all at once) a day jumping on the trampoline. I think it kinda grounds/comforts him.
    •    Anonymous said... My son did the dinosaur thing... totally normal...I believe we should not discourage them however difficult the repetition becomes... its very difficult to steer them to other interests..
    •    Anonymous said... My son had a fight today at school telling me his tired of children bulling him. In one way I'm so happy he stood up for. The other hand how can I tolerate violence
    •    Anonymous said... My son had a thing for cars when he was younger...don't curb it - it's what they love! it's their focus and it's often what will keep them calm and interactive. Instead, teach through it. We learned colours , maths, imaginative stories ...the list is endless!!
    •    Anonymous said... My son has hyper focus on one subject at a time that can lasts for months...then he moves onto something else! This transition has Improved as he's got older, he changes his focus in quicker turn around times, and at times is interested in more then one thing! He is now 12. He can be super happy about his focus when it's going well...for example he is really into yo yo's right now (hand eye co ordination off the charts) and is learning all the tricks he can!! But his string broke on the yo yo and had a total meltdown! Always have spares!!!!
    •    Anonymous said... My son is 8 years old. We tend not to curb his appetite for his repetitive play. It is something that keeps him happy. What we have done is try to introduce new games.
    •    Anonymous said... No let him go....this is one thing about autistic kids is a specialty. My son is 8 and right now it's minecraft. He is also very interested in dinasours, springboard diving (his sport) space. My biggest piece of advice is don't treat him Any different. We exspect the same behavior from him as our older son (they are 17 mths appart). The only difference is we have more patience and understanding when it comes to our 8 year old. But if he doesn't follow the rules he does get grounded. Usually it's his tablet we take away. We started this when he was young and we are finding it easier now that he is 8. Still have our bad days but they are less. They MUST know where those boundaries are. There is no gray area with my son only black and white, right and wrong.
    •    Anonymous said... Oh and he is also a Minecraft fanatic, I know quite a few asperger kids who love Minecraft.
    •    Anonymous said... We loved the yo yo phase!
    •    Anonymous said... Yes would be the short answer


    Post your comment below...

    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.

    Click here
    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