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

"My 5-year-old is obsessed with Legos. In fact, his entire bedroom looks like a Lego museum. People who go into his room are rather impressed with the massive structures he has created. But my question is, should I allow him to continue to collect these pieces? It is starting to become a bit overwhelming."

Children with ASD or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often must deal with obsessions and compulsive behavior. They may become fixated on a narrow subject, such as the weather, compulsive neatness, baseball statistics or other narrow interest. In fact, this is often a hallmark sign of the disorder.

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

Certain types of cognitive behavioral therapy can help as well. Finally, in severe cases, medications that control obsessive behavior can be tried to see if some of the obsessiveness reduces.

Families must, to some extent, learn to cope with compulsive behaviors on the part of their "special needs" child. It helps to learn as much as you can about the disorder and its nuances. Learn as much about your child as you can, and learn which things trigger inappropriate compulsive behavior so they can be avoided. 

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

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

Allow others (e.g., therapists, teachers, doctors) to help your child with some of his behaviors. As a parent, you can be expected to do only so much, and others may have to be involved in helping you help your child.

In some cases, it helps to turn your child’s obsession into a passion that can be integrated into his own extracurricular or school activities. A consuming interest in a given subject can help connect your child to schoolwork or social activities, depending on the obsession and the behavior. Only you, and perhaps your child’s doctors and teachers, can decide whether or not it’s appropriate to allow the child to fixate on a particular subject excessively.

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


•    Anonymous said... Absolutely yes. its great for hand and eye coordination. my son is slmost 21 and i still give him one every Christmas.
•    Anonymous said... And what a wonderful obsession it is!!! We have so many Legos/Bionicles if I ever sold them I think I would be rich!!! My boys are hitting the teen years and still get them out. My youngest daughter plays as well. I found these great storage bags called Swoop that spread out on the floor like a mat and then when your done you can tie it up and put them away!! Although not for masterpieces in progress!!


•    Anonymous said... Aspie's like to collect things. Let him display them. It's a great sense of accomplishment for him. I bet he gets excited when people compliment him on them! My 11 yr old Aspie still builds with them. He has a huge container full of pieces, but has built so many intricate ones that they are displayed on shelves in his room. Some have spilled over into my living room, so I just found more space in his room for them. I wish he was able to have a playroom where he could keep them. My son's main restricted interest is video games, so I love when he puts down the controller in favor of legos. Debi Conn is right.... eventually another restricted interest will take its place.
•    Anonymous said... Heh. My 7yo Aspie son's room in the same. He likes to pull them apart after a while and then rebuild new structures not ever thought of when the kits were put together. If it's not detrimental to his everyday functioning, where's the problem? Lego is EXCELLENT for developing fine motor control and learning important concepts: engineering/design principals, physics, creativity, planning. It's also something that they have total control over, which is important for all kids but especially kids on the spectrum.
•    Anonymous said... I don't know what the experts say, but we allow our daughter to have her "obsessions." For 2 years it was 100% Wonder Pets. Then for a year it was stickers. Now for the past year it's been Beanie Boos - her room is devoted. I don't see harm in it, as it brings her comfort when otherwise her sensory issues cause her grief.
•    Anonymous said... I say YES! My 13 year old w/ Aspergers LOVES his! It's one of the few things he enjoys and he takes great pride in! He's been building since around 7 he loves kinects and bionicles he buys a new one with his own $ every chance he gets... I would encourage him to continue.. Be excited when he builds something new.... We take pictures for a "portfolio" so he can take down certain pieces to build a newer or better version... It's a great outlet for them... Be proud momma
•    Anonymous said... I would say yes as well. My 5 year old is obsessed with zoo's and animals. I love it when he takes me on a zoo tour after he has spent an hour setting up his room. He also likes video games, and they could become an obsession if I don't drastically reduce the amount of time he is allowed on it and make video games a reward. So, it is good your son is using his imagination and skills with Legos verses spending hours on video games. I think we need to love and embrace the beautiful aspects of AS is our children.
•    Anonymous said... I would say, yes keep letting him collect. We started my son at age 4 and he has a 10 gal green rubber made tub full to the top. He still is building. I feel to fuels their creativity.
•    Anonymous said... IF that's what works...go with it. ~an aspie mommy
•    Anonymous said... If you have limited funds, you can create a photo collection of your child's masterpieces. It's a way to preserve them so your child will be willing to re-use the lego pieces.
•    Anonymous said... Just a thought... I let my son continue with whatever he is "in to" at the time but try to introduce related tangents that he might like. I do this to broaden his world in a comfortable way for him. If your child loves legos and building things with them you could try to introduce the process of sketching out his building plans. That could lead into other types of drawing or art projects. The key is to help them grow and broaden their interests without taking away what they enjoy. Does that make sense? It has worked really well for us.
•    Anonymous said... Legos never lose value so if he ever did move on you could sell them but Lego has a large adult following and people collect them my son has massive amounts as well we have 3 walls of bins sorted by color & body bins he enjoys sorting as much as building. My only rule is they have to stay out of the common areas of the house his room and basement I don't care about.
•    Anonymous said... let him be and God willing it's your biggest worry in his life
•    Anonymous said... Most definitely YES! This is one of the best activities to use when they are trying to play with other kids. Every kid likes Legos! It helps to bridge that "what do you want to do" gap!
•    Anonymous said... My 13 yr old has a room totally filled with Lego. His clothes and cupboard draws are stacked with amazing structures. He play occasionally now when stressed or really bored. But he still won't let go it. He puts his clothes in the bedside table draw. And wk t get new clothes as the Lego is more important.
•    Anonymous said... My 9 year old also has a Lego thing. And once he puts them together they stay together. His room is VERY overwhelming to me, but I believe he is seeking visual input. It is a great side of creativity as well. I say let him keep them.
•    Anonymous said... my son's current obession is legos and also trains. he goes back and forth between them, what we do is we let him play with them and then make him back off for a day or 2 to givem them a break, if not then he gets overwhelmed and frustrated because he cant think of what to build with them
•    Anonymous said... Our 11 yr old daughters obsession is Harry potter- we allow it all but work with her on socially acceptable levels around peers or family, for example- you can't wear the griffendor robe to school or not monopolizing the conversation about Harry. It's tough to teach balance but every kid has interests- it would be unfair to deny an interest to any child- just teach that there are social rules around it.
•    Anonymous said... Our son is 8yo and is an Aspie. He loves building with his lego but then shows little imagination as far as playing. So mostly his creations stay on his lego table once completed. This is one area we need to work on with him - imagination and play. ANY SUGGESTIONS WOULD BE HELPFUL. We try to use Lego to teach him things like following instructions, colors, and maths. I will refer to pieces as "two by four block " or "four by eight flat" and he must count the "dots" on the pieces, and tell us what the answer is. He has completed several larger lego with no assistance at all. We then Facebook a picture, which he also loves as our family and friends can be part of encouraging and rewarding him. He also loves the "Cars" movies, so we have found him Cars lego which has been great. I think lego is great for kids on the spectrum.
•    Anonymous said... Same with my soon to be teen.....most of his lego is stored in basement as he outgrew it.....still builds a bit but gradually new interests took over....right now it is midievil
•    Anonymous said... Sounds just like my Dylan. His room is filled with lego. At times you cannot even see the floor. We too have put bins in his room to help keep things organized. When it gets too much I make him clean up. However the next day they are all over the place again. It is an ongoing struggle! Lego is his comfort so to remove it from his room would not be a good idea. So we just keep encouraging the constant clean up.
•    Anonymous said... Yes as we have found with my youngest his obsession Thomas and Lego Ninjargo. These have encouraged creativity and imagination not only with play, but with his story writing at school. They also have Thomas rewards stickers at school which are used for really good work and to encourage new tasks, he will try anything for a Thomas sticker.
•    Anonymous said... YES keep them. We go to lots of lego conventions and there are many adult Lego clubs. might be a good social thing for him as he gets older. Also, I have a 5-yr-old NT boy, and he has all his own lego obsession, paired with all his 16-yr-old aspie brother's legos. It IS overwhelming. LOL Just try not to step on them.
•    Anonymous said... Yes! My husband has a cousin who's been collecting Star Wars Lego sets for years... He doesn't have aspergers and he's in his late 30's and he still gets them for holidays! It's a hobby like any other thing! Aspies get labeled with the word obsession but I think it's a passion and we all have them! And indulging them is to encourage them! Maybe he'll become an engineer for Lego someday! That's a career creating Legos and its a real job listed on their website believe it or not! And the only thing he will remember when he older and happy with his work is that his wonderful parents encouraged his dreams!
•    Anonymous said... Yes, we put a line of shelves all the way around my sons room, along with other bookcases. Soon he will move onto another obsession all on his own.
•    Anonymous said... Yes. People with aspergers have a better ability to visualise things in three dimensions, they may well struggle to draw in 2D, but will excel at 3D. Really there are strengths and weaknesses to this, work on the strengths, and learn to identify and counter the weaknesses.

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Supporting your Autistic Child to Make Friends

"My son (high functioning autistic) really struggles making and keeping friends. Is there anything I can do to help him with this? He is content to play by himself for the most part, but I can tell he feels left out and would really enjoy have some playmates."

When a "neurotypical" child (i.e., a child without ASD level 1 or High-Functioning Autism) makes friends, parents are not often involved in the choice of the friend or the facilitation of the friendship. 

But, the parents of an child on the autism spectrum should be  active participants in helping him make and keep solid friends.

Part of the process involves concretely teaching the child how an "average" (for the lack of a better term) friend should act. Teaching him politeness, restraint in some situations, and how to talk and establish good eye contact with others will help this child learn skills that aren’t innate to his development.

Finding a child to be your son’s friend in the school situation often takes careful planning and effort. It genuinely helps if you volunteer in the classroom and get to know the other students well. If you can find a receptive, relatively quiet child who would make a good friend for your son, ask the child’s parents if the two could play together. Bear in mind that rowdy or noisy children may be a source of distress to a child on the spectrum.

If your child is one of the many who have specific interests or musical ability, make the effort to link him up through groups or clubs of children with similar interests. Often, having a similar interest as another child will help facilitate a relationship between the two. 

Even if your son doesn’t have a special interest, consider something structured, such as the boy scouts or a church group, from which friends can be found and maintained through regular contact.

It’s probably not a good idea to invite a bunch of kids over for a sleepover. Rather, one child playing with your son at a time has the best chance of success. If the other child seems to have some maturity, explaining the condition of high-functioning autism to that child may help avoid the frustration some children feel around "special needs" kids.

Your son may not be receptive to a friendship in all cases, and he may prefer to play alone. In that case, wait until you see signs of receptiveness before attempting to facilitate a friendship. 


·         Anonymous said... Also when you see him having some interaction with other kids, make a fuss of him, show him that what he is doing is good and this will also encourage him.
·         Anonymous said... Autism means our kids have gaps in their social and emotional development and ability to think flexibly (and therefore behave adaptively). There's no quick fix for this - it takes an NT child 5 - 10 years to learn all the complexities of friendship and thats kids without developmental gaps. We've used Relationship Development Intervention very successfully with my son to fill in some of those developmental gaps. He is now very connected to others. He still struggles with lots of things but he's much less egocentric and more able to step into the skin of what it means to be a friend.
·         Anonymous said... How ever hard it may seem you need to keep putting your son into this social situation. Im thinking he is still young? As when they get older it does get a bit easier. My son has come on leaps and bounds by continuously putting him in the situation. Learning the correct social skills is very difficult for kids on the spectrum and if we force them into the situation then there will come a point where their interaction will change for the better.
·         Anonymous said... I have the same problem with my 5 yr old. She cries when the kids outside don't want to play with her or goes in the house. It makes me sooo sad
·         Anonymous said... It helps to practice what to say in different social situations; especially at the start of conversations. Really breaking it up in concrete language, like "when someone says hi, say hi", "when someone says I want to play say ok". I like power point- you can use clip art to illustrate a little social story book of potential scenarios (like when someone is playing with you remember not to walk away). Also getting together with other kids who share his common interests helps too. This is what I've learned with mine anyway!
•    Anonymous said… Boy, I can relate to this one! My daughter just "lost" her best friend because of my daughter's hellacious tantrums when things don't go her way, or if she starts to feel rejected. Her friend won't return calls, and her mom won't allow my daughter to play at her friend's house. The mom made it clear that she will not tolerate that kind of "behavior" in her home. I just want to cry for my baby. :-(
about an hour ago via mobile ·
•    Anonymous said… I have this problem as well and it really worries me. My 7 year old son gets on with girls who are a lot younger than him but other than that he cant seem to keep friendships.
•    Anonymous said… I need help with my son on this to. I know there has to be more kids in the school system that's have the same problems but they refused to help me get a group together. I think that it would help them to know they are not alone in the world!
•    Anonymous said… I think so many Aspies are like this. I'm a military member so we move a lot and so do people around us, unfortunately. What I found useful is finding other Aspies and normal kids as well. You have to network. Other Aspies have the same problem so it works out for both kids. On top of that you already know the other parent goes through the same stuff.
•    Anonymous said… look up groups on yahoo, you might find something! Also, talk to a speech pathologist or a local OT, they would probably help you. Our old office let people put thongs in the office, maybe you can start a group yourself.
•    Anonymous said… mine is a loner too, but he likes the older boys next door. They are aware of his syndrom and even invite him out to play now, and it makes him so excited. My son also loves to bowl, so this summer we are putting him in a bowling legue for kids. Our thought is to make socializing a postive experience by associating it with something he loves to do anyway. Plus it is a much more controled enviroment, he won't have to deal with any teasing or other kids being mean.
about an hour ago ·
•    Anonymous said… my daughter cant make friends or keep them i feel bad for her its really hard for her to keep friends
•    Anonymous said… My oldest son had problems with friends in elem. school, but it got better in jr. & sr. high because there were more kids with his interests. Joining band really helped.

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Coping with Obsessions and Rituals in Kids with ASD

"My [high functioning] autistic daughter has to have everything in her room just so. If anything gets moved (for example, when I dust the furniture or change her bed sheets), she has a fit. She always knows if something is missing or has been moved to a different spot. Is this part of her autism, or is it OCD, or both?"

One of the hallmarks of ASD Level 1 [High-Functioning Autism] is the development of obsessive thinking and the performing of ritual behaviors done to reduce stress and anxiety. This type of behavior can later meet the criteria in adulthood for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

ASD children often have an obsessive interest in a particular subject -- and very little interest in much else. They may obsessively seek information about maps or clocks or some other topic. 

They may also be very inflexible in their habits and may rigidly adhere to certain routines or rituals. These obsessions and compulsions are believed to be biological in origin. This means that it is very difficult to go to therapy or just talk the individual out of the rituals.

Even so, there is some evidence to suggest that cognitive-behavioral therapy may help control some of the behaviors and makes the child aware of ways to recognize when the behavior is occurring so as to stop it before it occurs. This kind of therapy, in general, can be helpful for children, teens and adults with autism because it focuses on concrete behavioral and “thought” changes necessary to function on a day-to-day basis.

Parents may need to simply be supportive of the child who so rigidly hangs onto rituals she doesn’t understand. Unless the child has done a lot of therapy, it takes a great deal of effort to fight the rituals, nor does it help to punish the child for them.

There are medications, often used in obsessive compulsive disorder, that can take the edge off of the ritual behavior and obsessions, especially when used along with cognitive behavioral therapy. No medication is without side effects, and the improvement may not be complete; however, it is worth the effort to try the medication as recommended by your child’s doctor.


•    Anonymous said... OCD is definitely part of the Aspergers. Our Aspie is obsessive about her pencil sketches. She always has her sketchbook with her and no one is allowed to touch it. She will show them to us but SHE has to turn the pages. I shudder to think of what would happen if that book got damaged!
•    Anonymous said... OCD isn't always part of ASD but our toddler (2.5 yrs) is HFA and must have things in a certain way. Must wear certain clothes or have certain sheets on his bed. It's not OCD just a different aspect of the spectrum
•    Anonymous said... Our daughter had OCD, sensory issues. Drove me crazy. Not until she was nine did all these issues get diagnosed into a aspergers diagnosis So, it's part of the aspergers. We also have social issues, tics, and a few more things.
•    Anonymous said... I have 4 daughters and 2 of them are on the spectrum .. The older of the two is just the same in fact she's numbered her pillows so she knows exactly which pillow goes where ... I was told by Camhs it is partly her autism but partly as her room is her sanctuary it's where she goes to get away from everything. So it's her way of having some control.. Nothing to be worried about after all it is her room and if you think about it you probably wouldn't like someone in your bedroom moving things about .. Don't worry honestly x
•    Anonymous said... My 3 year old will line her toys up and refuses to do anything else until theyre perfect. And if a toy is missing she gets mad and wont let it go until its been found and put in line
•    Anonymous said... Roo is 7 and he likes his room neat and orderly,but he shares are room with his NT brother who lives in what can only be described as organized chaos!!! Drives Roo crazy!! I have to keep on the older one constantly to clean so Roo doesn't meltdown! I also have Roo help change sheets, dust and vaccum so that its done the way he likes it and he doesn't panic cause someone touched his stuff :)

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Altered Disciplinary Methods for High-Functioning Autistic Children

"My 5 y.o. son was recently diagnosed with high functioning autism. In light of this revelation, should I discipline him the same way I do my other kids, or should I make some adjustments based on his condition?"

Kids with ASD Level 1 or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have no greater permission to misbehave than your other kids. But, the way you gain control over your “typical” kids’ behavior will differ with an HFA youngster, mostly because of differences in how he thinks and how he perceives rewards and discipline.

HFA kids do not respond well to negative reinforcement (e.g., threatening, scolding, etc.). Also, they don’t respond negatively to isolation, so the statement, “Go to your room!” may be seen as a reward instead of a consequence. Furthermore, spanking should never be used – not even as a last resort. 

Due to the way he thinks, your son probably won’t be able to tie the “misbehavior” to the “punishment,” leaving you back at square one. Therefore, you need to be more creative in defining which things will be viewed as rewards - and which things will be viewed as discipline.

Focus on rewarding (reinforcing) positive behavior rather than simply punishing “bad” behavior. Positive rewards can include being able to play a preferred computer game, listening to preferred music, or watching a preferred television program. Rewarding your son in this way may be enough to alter his behavior accordingly.

These specific privileges are often offered because HFA kids respond less to human contact - or even human praise – and more to the presence or absence of “things.” Rewards can be offered along with praise, but praise alone has little positive benefit and doesn’t improve self-esteem the same way it does for “typical” kids.

Discipline should involve removing anything your son prefers (e.g., television, toys, computer games, movies, etc.). All discipline and rewards must come with very concrete explanations as to why they are given. Only then can he match the reward or consequence with the behavior he has engaged in - and only then can change occur.

"Make-ups" can also be used as a form of discipline. This mother of an HFA child describes it well:

"I find it is critical that my son (9 yrs) have the chance to earn back his lost computer time. He usually is given the chance to do 'make ups' - to help me with a chore I would usually do or give me comfort in or whomever he has wronged. We negotiate these things depending. This week - he freaked out that the shirt he likes to wear to church each week was dirty, and he yelled at his dad for 20 minutes - so he picked up 50 sticks in the yard. He had a meltdown in public with me - so he had to play an anger management game with me or empty the dishwasher. 'Make ups' have to be approved by the offended. If we're fighting over homework and he's had a punishment given - it might simply be that he finishes the rest of the work without any more arguing and foregoes a break or agrees to work ahead on something."
==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

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